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Laws Protecting Working Moms

Woman working in a gym smiles into the camera.

The federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law requires some employers to provide basic breastfeeding accommodations for some nursing mothers at work. These include a functional space and time for women to express milk each time they need to express.

About the Federal Law

The U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law on March 23, 2010, amended Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which covers most hourly wage-earning and some salaried employees. This law requires employers to provide two basic types of accommodations: time and space, as follows:


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.

The law recognizes that each woman will have different needs for milk expression breaks. Some flexibility will help make this work. Most women use their standard breaks and meal period to express milk, although it is not required by law. See Time Solutions for ideas and options for how to accommodate that time.

An employer shall not be required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time to express milk for any work time spent for such purpose.

While employers are not required to compensate employees for milk expression breaks, some companies choose to do so. If an employer already provides paid breaks, however, an employee who uses that break time to express milk must be compensated in the same way other employees are compensated for break time. If extra time is needed, that extra time is then unpaid. Other options, though not required by law, are to allow women to work a more flexible schedule and make up extra time needed by coming to work earlier, staying later, or taking a shorter meal break. Some companies do not track extra break time needed. See Time Solutions.


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.

The law does not require the private space to be a dedicated lactation room, though many companies find that a permanent room meets the needs of their employees. This website provides many solutions for permanent space, flexible space options, and even mobile options that can be considered in virtually every type of industry! See Solutions.

Who Is Covered

Employees who are covered by Section 7 of the FLSA, which includes the FLSA's overtime pay requirements, are entitled to breaks to express milk. Therefore, this law supports and protects employees eligible for overtime, and entitles them to break time and space to express milk. Employees who are exempt from overtime under Section 13 of the FLSA are not covered by Section 7 of the Act, and therefore are not entitled to break time to express milk under 7(r) of the FLSA. However, many employers seek to provide fair and equal access for all employees, and extend the benefits to any nursing mother at the workplace.

State Legislation

Nothing in this subsection shall preempt a state law that provides greater protection to employees than the protections provided for under this subsection.

Currently 24 U.S. states and territories provide legislation related to supporting nursing women at work. Visit the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures to learn more about laws in your state.

Employers should carefully review the individual sections of both the federal and their state laws and compare them to see which sections are strongest. If a section of a state law provides greater protection, then that section would be the requirement. If the federal law provides greater protection in another section, then that is the requirement. For example, a state may extend protection to all employees, not just the non-exempt workers, while the federal law requiring private space may be stronger than the state law, which might only encourage private space.

U.S. Department of Labor

The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division is responsible for enforcing the FLSA and provides compliance assistance on the federal requirements under the law. This includes the full language of the law and all provisions, and information on how to comply. The DOL provides information on the requirements of the law, including a fact sheet and FAQs.

United States Breastfeeding Committee

The United States Breastfeeding Committee has detailed information related to options and resources for compliance with the law.

Preventative Health Services for Women

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act also requires insurance companies to cover breastfeeding support, counseling, and equipment for the duration of breastfeeding. This includes covering the cost of a breast pump. Check with the company insurance program to see what breast pumps are covered as part of these requirements.

The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division is responsible for administering and enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act, under which employers are required to provide break time and space for certain nursing employees. For more information on the requirements under the law, visit http://www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers/ or call 1-866-4-USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).

Content last updated September 17, 2014.

Resources last updated April 15, 2014.


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