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Breastfeeding or pumping moms deserve protection at work

Most women know that pregnancy is a protected medical condition. Under both federal and state laws, women expecting children have the right to take medical leave, as well as the right to reasonable accommodations by their employers so that they can continue to work during pregnancy. After maternity leave, new mothers also have the right to return to the same position they held before their medical leave.

Fewer new mothers realize that their rights to breastfeed their babies or to pump breast milk for them are also protected under federal law. Breastfeeding is widely considered the best nutritional option for infants, as long as their mothers are able to do so. It is associated with better immune system development and even higher IQs in the children as they mature. It only makes sense that there are protections in place to encourage mothers to nurse or provide breast milk for their babies after they are born.

What are your rights as a breastfeeding worker?

If your job is near your home or offers on-site childcare, your childcare provider may be able to bring your infant to you to nurse throughout your shift at work. If this isn't an option, you have the right to pump breast milk while at work. This provides your baby with high-quality nutrition and also ensures that your supply of breast milk does not dwindle due to infrequent nursing or pumping.

You have the right to expect reasonable accommodations from your employer for at least the first year of your child's life. Generally speaking, you will probably need to pump breast milk at least every three hours throughout the day. If you can't, you may experience pain from increased pressure, leakage of breast milk and eventually, a decrease in milk production.

What accommodations should I expect from my employer?

You have the right to take breaks to ensure you can pump, nurse or otherwise express milk a reasonable number of times throughout your shift. Your employer, however, can require that these breaks overlap with paid breaks or your meal time. You may also have to extend your work day to offset the additional break times required to pump milk or nurse your infant.

You also have the right to a private space that is not a bathroom where you can nurse or pump uninterrupted. An empty office, a meeting room or even a special, designated pumping room are all options. The space should not be visible to other workers and should be private enough to allow you to use it uninterrupted for the 10 to 20 minutes it takes to pump or nurse your child.

If your employer refuses to accommodate your lactation needs or penalizes you for asserting them, you may have to take steps to fight against this all-too-common form of discrimination.

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