Woman with baby workingMany people are not aware of the federal and state laws that protect a breastfeeding mother’s right to breastfeed her child in public and to have adequate breaks at work for pumping breast milk. This became clear when we surveyed attendees of our Chocolate Milk documentary screening in August. During this discussion, we found that:

  • Only 8% of people considered local businesses very supportive of breastfeeding mothers

  • 42% found them to be somewhat supportive

  • 28% found them to be not supportive

  • 22% were not sure

The lack of support at workplaces came up in discussion at both screenings. Working mothers, who had been well aware of their rights to take time during work hours to pump breast milk, spoke about the pressures that they encountered at work and the impact of these stresses on their milk supply.

One mother described her efforts to establish adequate pumping breaks and a place other than a bathroom to use as a pumping station. This particular mom was struck by the relative ease with which smoking employees were able to take breaks in comparison.

Working Women Who Breastfeed Are Protected by Law

Mothers in Alabama have the right to breastfeed in public according to state public health law but there are no state laws protecting women’s right to take breaks for expressing breast milk at the workplace. Federal law, however, provides protections for working mothers thanks to the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010.

Passage of the ACA amended Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), requiring employers to provide hourly workers with “reasonable break time” and “private space that is not a bathroom” to pump milk or directly feed a breastfed baby during work hours for up to a year after that child’s birth.

Alabama employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to the FLSA break time requirement if compliance with the provision would impose an undue hardship, but this hardship must be determined by the Department of Labor. In other words, the employer must make the case to the Department of Labor that it can not afford to give a breastfeeding employee adequate break time.

Employers are not required under the FLSA to compensate nursing mothers for breaks taken for the purpose of expressing milk. However, where employers already provide compensated breaks, an employee who uses that break time to express milk must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time.

The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor can be reached for info and assistance at 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).

Get Organized: Steps to Developing a Breastfeeding Plan While Working

  • Approach your supervisor during your pregnancy
  • Discuss your questions and decisions with supervisors, family, and counselors. Consider:
  • What is the maximum maternity leave I will be able to take?
  • Who will care for my baby while I am at work?
  • How will I gradually return to work?
  • Where is the place where I can express my milk at work?
  • What are times when I can realistically express milk at work?
  • How will I express my milk…will I use a breast pump or hand expression?
  • What type of breast pump can I use?
  • Where will I store milk while at work?
  • Where can I wash my storage containers or breast pump parts?
  • Where will I store milk I bring home from work?
  • What are my plans for breastfeeding my baby before/during/after work?
  • Focus on your needs as well as your desire to be a productive employee
  • Work with your supervisor to share your plan with your co-workers
  • Engage your family; teach them about your needs and simple guidelines for handling your breast milk.
  • Find a childcare setting that has achieved a “Breastfeeding Friendly Child Care Certification.”

For more information, contact your county Extension office or Christina LeVert at Christina.Levert@aces.edu

Click for More Breastfeeding Resources

Common Barriers for Working Women Who Breastfeed:

  • Short maternity leave

  • Emotional and physical demands of working and breastfeeding

  • Lack of private place to breastfeed at work that is not a bathroom

  • Lack of support from employers and co-workers

  • Lack of flexibility and job security

  • Discomfort in talking with supervisors about their needs; supervisors may not know or appreciate the needs of nursing women and they may worry that women will “take advantage” of the privilege to take work time to pump

  • Reliance on others to provide for a breastfed baby; not all families or child care settings are knowledgeable or eager to care for a breastfed child

Resource for Employers

Strategies for all types of employers can be found on the website for the U. S. Department of Health and Human Service Office of Women’s Health.

a person holding a baby