Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law: Understanding Reasonable Break Time

Familiarizing yourself with your rights as a breastfeeding employee can help you get the support you need after returning to work, so you can continue breastfeeding for as long as you choose!

If you’re a parent who has made the decision to continue feeding breast milk to your baby once you return to work after parental leave, there is a lot you are probably thinking (and maybe even feeling overwhelmed!) about. Preparing ahead of time for your return to work transition can help you discover the routines that work best for you and your family, whether that means purchasing extra breastfeeding supplies for your pump bag, blocking off your calendar and regularly reserving your workplace’s lactation space ahead of time, or even working out a transitional schedule with your manager as you ease back into professional life. We get it, mama – It’s likely been a lot of changes lately! From becoming accustomed to functioning on minimal sleep, interviewing and coordinating care providers prior to your return to work, and learning how to nurse your little one, opting to commit to your breastfeeding journey even after returning to the workforce can provide many benefits to both you and your baby.

Unfortunately, navigating the experience of how, when, and where to express your milk at work can oftentimes be a very common stressor for new moms. According to the 2010 Federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law, employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are required to provide “reasonable break time” for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth. For a breastfeeding parent like yourself, this is helpful information to know because it means there are certain rights you are entitled to under federal law. However, “reasonable break time” may still sound a bit vague to some new parent employees – though this is generally because everyone’s breastfeeding situation is unique.

Understanding the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law

The time needed for a parent to express breast milk varies by the parent and even by the company, particularly when considering the size of your workplace and your role at the company. For instance:

  • If you work in a smaller office environment, you may have a convenient lactation space nearby.
  • However, if you work in very large building or campus with multiple buildings – such as a hospital, school, airport, high-rise, or major company – you may have a long walk (or many elevators!) to get to a designated pumping space.
  • If you are a warehouse or factory worker, you may need even more time to reach your pumping destination and also have more rigid break times.
  • If you work in an environment where you are required to wear safety gear, such as a hairnet, goggles or other Personal Protective Equipment, you will need to account for the time it takes to remove and replace those items, as well as learning where the closest lactation space is to your work area.

All of these situations are perfectly normal! You are still likely still protected under the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law, but understanding your unique work situation can help you plan and prepare ahead of time as you transition back to work as a breastfeeding parent. Once you figure out how much time you need and when you’ll be pumping during your work times, consider proactively communicating this – and any other expectations around pumping at work – to your manager or supervisor. Once you and your manager are aligned on your back-to-work transition as a breastfeeding mom, you can focus on the most important task at hand: continuing to provide your amazing liquid gold to your baby!

What About the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act?

Recently to the publication of this article, U.S. Congress passed the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, which expands upon the existing Break Time for Nursing Mothers law by:

  • Extending break time and space protections to salaried employees and other workers not currently covered under the existing Break Time for Nursing Mothers law.
  • Requires that time spent pumping must be considered hours worked and paid time if an employee is not completely relieved of their duties during their pumping breaks.
  • Extends the time period for pumping rights and accommodations from one year to the first two years of the baby’s life.

Before making a claim of liability against an employer, an employee must generally first notify their employer that they are not in compliance and provide them with 10 days to come into compliance with the required accommodations. You can learn more about the Pump for Nursing Mothers Act here.

Prepping for Work as a Breastfeeding Employee

Trust us, mama, we know that you’ll have enough on your mind as you adjust to balancing parenthood with your work life! To help, we’ve put together some considerations as you determine what “reasonable break time” is for you! Once you’re back at work, try doing a practice walk-through based on the steps below to help you anticipate about how much time you’ll need for your pumping breaks:

  • Walk from your desk or work station to collect your breast pump bag and pumping accessories (such as a locker or your vehicle in the parking lot – if you’re able to keep these items in your desk or workstation drawer, even better!)
  • Walk from where your pump bag and equipment is stored to your employer’s designated lactation space.
  • Remove any work-required equipment that is worn (such as hairnets, goggles, gloves, gowns, or other PPE).
  • Set up your breast pump and undress as needed.
  • Pump for at least 15 minutes.
  • Re-dress and clean your breast pump and pumping equipment (pro tip: keep our breast pump and accessory wipes and/or our sanitizer spray on hand in your pump bag if you don’t always have a sink nearby – or time to reach one).
  • Walk to location where you can store your pumped breast milk (such as a designated fridge).
  • Walk to where you typically keep your breast pump bag and equipment to put it away.
  • If applicable, reapply any work-required equipment (your hairnet, goggles, or other PPE).
  • Return to your desk or workstation.

It’s important to understand what you need to support your pumping experience as a working parent. Though you may feel stressed or rushed at times while expressing milk at work, deciding what “reasonable break time” is for you and your unique situation can help you acclimate to another important aspect of your breastfeeding journey. Having these conversations with your manager or supervisor may feel strange at first, especially if you’re a first-time parent, but communicating your needs can help you feel heard and supported – which, in turn, can make staying committed to your breastfeeding journey easier. No matter how long you choose to breastfeed, every drop counts – and we’re here for you each step of the way!

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