I remember when I went back to work after my fourth (and final) son was born. He was only 6 weeks old. I was working nights, doing that Mom Math so many of us do to figure out how many of his waking hours I was missing. I worked while he slept, and I'll let you do the math on when I slept. It was emotionally taxing, of course, and physically painful. Because I was nursing him exclusively, and my workplace didn't allow breaks to pump. At the time, there were no rights for breastfeeding moms at work, and I was not in a position to challenge anyone. I had to suffer in silence, praying that my breasts wouldn't leak. My body in agony.
Thankfully, it seems the workplace has improved mightily since those days. For some people, at least. The Break Time for Nursing Mothers law was introduced in 2010 under the Affordable Care Act. It was added as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act to cover most salaried and hourly wage employees. According to the legislation, the Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision requires employers to provide breastfeeding mothers with the proper accommodation and time to pump their breast milk.
While there are certain areas where the law could absolutely be improved — for example, employees of businesses under 50 people can apply to be exempt from the law by claiming "undue hardship" and women are only able to pump for nursing babies under 1 year of age — it's certainly a step in the right direction.
Here's a breakdown of what rights breastfeeding moms have at work:
In the past, breastfeeding mothers who were back at work frequently were not afforded the privacy some need to feel comfortable expressing their milk. Under the Break Time For Nursing Mothers law, employers are required to provide space for nursing mothers to pump. Unfortunately, there is no federal law that requires employers to provide lactation rooms. But the law does state, according to the Office on Women's Health, that the room must be:
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.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the law requires that "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."
Unfortunately, employers are not required to pay their employees to pump breast milk beyond their standard breaks. If your employer already offers paid breaks, you are in the clear. And considering most mothers need to pump every two to three hours to make sure their milk doesn't dry up, it might be a good idea to have a conversation with your boss about your specific breastfeeding needs.
Remember that you will need considerable time to gather your supplies, find your space, and pump before returning to your work space. I know, it doesn't sound like much of a "break," does it?
If you find that your employer is not complying with the Break Time For Nursing Mothers law, you have the right to see the law enforced. The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division is responsible for upholding the law. If you would like to file a complaint, you can call 1-800-487-9243 or click here to find your nearest office.
Other breastfeeding laws vary by state, and 28 of them have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace. But under federal law, these are the rights nursing moms are entitled to in the United States.
You have rights when it comes to breastfeeding at work, and the right to a space that isn't huddled in a bathroom stall. The right to enough time to express your milk without fear of drying up. And the right to make sure nobody can take away those rights. It's not perfect. But it's a start.
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