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What Rights Do Nursing Mothers Have When They Return to Work?

August 11, 2017 Pregnancy Discrimination

What federal law says about expressing breastmilk during the workday

If you’re going back to work after having a baby, you may be wondering how you’re going to handle expressing breastmilk during the workday.

Where will you do it? Will your employer give you a hard time about it? If so, what can you do?

Knowing your rights in advance can help take a lot of stress out the situation.

Let’s take a look at some common questions nursing moms have about returning to work.

What does the law say?

Some nursing mothers are granted protection for expressing breastmilk at work under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is often referred to as Obamacare.

The law states that employers are required to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”

What that means: women are entitled to unlimited nursing breaks, which may be taken whenever a woman needs to express breastmilk.

The law also states that employers must provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

Does this law apply to everyone?

Unfortunately, no. The law applies to women who are employed by companies or agencies that must comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (which includes most enterprises, with the exception of small businesses), and who are non-exempt. Non-exempt usually refers to hourly employees who are eligible to receive overtime.

However, the law encourages all employers to provide breaks for all women, no matter what their classification.

Plus, salaried women may receive some consideration for expressing breastmilk under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). That law states that women who are lactating must be given the same freedom to address their needs as would any other employee who is experiencing a non-incapacitating medical condition.

For example, if an employee would normally be allowed to modify his or her schedule to attend to medical treatments, then nursing mothers at the same company should be granted the same consideration.

State and local laws may offer additional protection for nursing mothers as well. For example, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the City of Philadelphia have laws in place prohibiting pregnancy discrimination.

Are nursing breaks compensated?

Sometimes. The law does not specify that nursing breaks be compensated or uncompensated. Rather, if depends upon how an employer structures other kinds of breaks. If an employer already offers paid breaks for other purposes, then it must compensate women who choose to use those breaks to express breast milk.

Under federal law, short breaks of under 20 minutes must be compensated. These kinds of breaks are often referred to as “rest breaks” and are generally used to grab a drink, make a phone call, or visit the restroom.

Does my employer need to dedicate a permanent room for this purpose?

No, a temporary space is sufficient, as long as it’s private and available every time a nursing mother needs to access it.

That means that a conference room that is in frequent use may not be acceptable.

 What if my employer says there’s no space for a nursing area?

You may be able to pursue a legal claim. Contact an employment lawyer to discuss your rights.

Contact Us Now for a Free Consultation

If you feel that your rights to express breastmilk during the workday have been violated, you should speak to an attorney to discuss your legal options.

Email us at, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.