What employers need to know

In 2010, Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended to require employers to provide basic accommodations, such as time and space, for breastfeeding mothers at work. Learn more about what employers are required to provide.

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What time accommodations do I have to provide nursing employees?

“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” — U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act — Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision


Employers covered under FLSA must provide a reasonable break time to express milk. The law recognizes that each woman will have different needs for milk expression breaks (often called pumping breaks). Some flexibility will help make this work. Most women use their standard breaks and meal period to pump or express milk.

Even in work environments that require a more rigid employee schedule, reasonable time can be accommodated. Women can schedule breaks ahead of time, if needed. Some companies, such as manufacturing plants and schools, often provide floaters for coverage when employees are taking breaks. Sometimes a supervisor fills in.

Learn more about providing adequate break time for nursing moms. You can also see what other businesses have done to schedule break time for nursing moms.

What space accommodations do I have to provide nursing employees?

“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” — U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act — Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision


Employers covered under FLSA must provide a private space for lactation that is not a bathroom. “Private” means that other people cannot see an employee while she is pumping breastmilk. Often this means putting a lock on the door, but some companies use mobile screens or tall cubicle areas. The space does not have to be a permanent, dedicated lactation room. This section shows many solutions for providing permanent, flexible, or temporary spaces and even mobile options that can be used in virtually every type of industry. Learn more about providing appropriate locations for nursing moms to express milk.

You can also see examples of what other businesses like yours are doing.

Our business is very small and has no extra space. How can we comply with the federal regulations?

Even businesses with very little space can support a mother’s breastfeeding goals and comply with federal regulations under FLSA. A functional space is usually large enough for a chair and a flat surface for the mother’s breast pump. Flexible and temporary options, such as allowing the employee to use a manager’s office or screening off a small area, often work well. Some companies even partner with neighboring businesses to share lactation space for nursing moms. Learn more about space solutions.

Why do employees who are breastfeeding need time and space for lactation at work?

  • Health benefits. Breastfeeding is so important for the health of mothers and babies that major medical organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), recommend that babies receive nothing but breastmilk during the first 6 months of life and continue receiving breastmilk for at least their first year. More than 80% of new mothers now begin breastfeeding immediately after birth.1 Breastfed babies are healthier and have lower health care costs. Giving breastmilk, rather than formula, helps prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, ear infections, type 2 diabetes, and many other illnesses.2 And the longer a mother feeds her child breastmilk, the more health benefits there are for both mother and child.2
  • Biological needs. Breastfeeding is a normal biological process. Breastfeeding employees need breaks throughout the workday to pump because milk production is a constant, ongoing biological process. A breastfeeding mother needs to feed her baby or pump milk about every 3 hours. Otherwise, her body will stop making breastmilk. When a nursing mother cannot pump or breastfeed, the milk builds up in her breasts, causing pain and sometimes infection. Removing milk from the breast is a biological need, similar to the need to eat or sleep.
  • Comfort. A lactation space is necessary because in order to begin the flow of milk, mothers must be able to sit down and be relaxed and not stressed. Mothers who are in an open or uncomfortable space may not be able to pump milk or may not be able to pump milk as quickly.
  • Privacy. A private space is necessary because pumping or expressing milk is a very different experience from breastfeeding a baby in person. Most moms can breastfeed a baby very discreetly, and many moms breastfeed in public with no concerns. However, pumping breastmilk is different. In order to apply the pump equipment, a woman will usually need to remove part of her clothing, and many pumps make a distinctive sound during pumping that may cause embarrassment or discomfort. Pumping equipment also needs to be cleaned after use, and breastmilk must be stored properly. There are more steps required in pumping breastmilk compared to breastfeeding a baby in person.

Why can’t employees pump milk in the bathroom?

Bathrooms are a place to eliminate waste from the body and to wash hands afterward in order to prevent the spread of germs and disease. Breastmilk is food and should be handled in the same way other food is handled. No one would be willing to prepare food in a bathroom, and that includes breastmilk. Bathrooms are not a sanitary place to prepare and handle food of any kind.

In the past, mothers were forced to use bathrooms to pump because there was no other private space available when it was time for a mother to express milk. Pumping is not something that all moms can do discreetly under a cover, in the way a baby can be breastfed discreetly in public. Breastfeeding mothers need space that is not a bathroom to express milk in a clean and private environment.

Am I required to pay employees for pumping breaks?

“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.” — U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act — Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision


No. Employers are not required to pay employees for milk expression breaks, although some companies choose to do so. If an employer already provides paid breaks, however, an employee who uses that break time to pump must be compensated in the same way other employees are compensated for break time. If extra time is needed because a mother is pumping or expressing milk, that extra time can be 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 taken as long as an employee completes her job duties in a timely manner. Learn more about providing break time to nursing moms.

How much does it cost to create a lactation space?

It depends on the needs of your business or company. If you convert existing space into a lactation room, it may cost nothing. To convert an existing room, you may need to buy supplies and furniture, such as a table and chair. Some spaces might need a lock installed. For outdoor workplaces, a pop-up tent or new portable restroom shell (without the toilet parts) can be inexpensive. You might need to purchase a windshield cover for employees who are in a company car most of the day. Or shades might need to be installed in existing office space.

Businesses that invest funds in support services for employees can experience a high return on investment through savings on employee health care and employee retention. Most of the expenses for a lactation space occur in the first year of starting the services. If funds are not available, first consider more flexible options that do not require major renovations, such as using an empty office or meeting room.

Do I also have to comply with state laws or union rules about breastfeeding at work?

“Nothing in this subsection shall preempt a State law that provides greater protection to employees than the protections provided for under this subsection.” — U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act — Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision


Yes. Employers should review their state laws and any applicable union rules on breastfeeding. If a section of a state law provides greater protection for breastfeeding mothers, then that section would be the requirement. For example, a state may extend protection to all employees, not just the non-exempt workers under FLSA. But if the federal law provides greater protection in another section, then that is the requirement. For example, the federal law requiring private space may be stronger than the state law, which might only encourage, but not require, private space.

Currently, 28 U.S. states, the District of Columbia (DC), and Puerto Rico have laws related to supporting nursing women at work. Some employers may need to comply with union regulations for their workplace. Consult with other groups, such as human resources, union leadership, and local government administrators in your community, when creating a lactation policy.

Why should my company have a lactation policy?

Creating a policy helps ensure that all employees have access to the same level of support, no matter what type of workplace they have. A policy helps the company be sure it is complying with federal regulations and also shows support for the health of employees and their families. A policy clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of both supervisors and employees, potentially helping them avoid embarrassment about discussing a personal topic. Having a policy in place means that managers will know exactly how to support an employee who is returning from maternity leave and wants to continue breastfeeding. And having a policy means that before maternity leave, employees will know what type of breastfeeding support they will receive at work. A lactation policy can help a mother decide whether to return to work after maternity leave.

A lactation policy or lactation support program also helps managers and supervisors communicate the importance of lactation breaks and private lactation space to all staff, not just the nursing mother. Employers can use a formal policy to educate all staff about the importance of respecting a coworker’s privacy while pumping and about providing coverage during lactation breaks. A clearly communicated policy can help prevent harassment and other negative workplace behavior.

How do I create a lactation policy at work?

Companies establishing policies should include provisions that align with the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, including the Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision under Section 7(r). This requires businesses to provide both reasonable break time and private space that is not a bathroom for nursing women to express milk at work. Policies should also align with any state laws that provide greater support and any union or local regulations.

Download a sample policy (PDF, 106 KB).

Consider the following components:

Time

Describe how your business will accommodate breaks for nursing women to express milk. This may include:

  • Offering milk expression breaks that are scheduled, part of breaks or meal periods already provided, taken as needed, or arranged on a case-by-case basis with the supervisor
  • Clarifying whether milk expression breaks will be paid or unpaid, or whether hourly employees will need to clock out for breaks
  • Determining how extra time beyond regular breaks will be accommodated if it takes longer for an employee to arrive at the lactation space and finish expressing milk
  • Deciding who will cover for the employee, if needed, during breaks
  • Stating how breaks will be scheduled among multiple women who may need milk expression or pumping breaks
  • Explaining how an employee’s regular schedule or route will be temporarily changed to accommodate lactation breaks

Space

Describe how your business will provide private areas where women can express milk. The policy might specify:

  • Whether the lactation space is permanently designated; a flexible space available on an as-needed basis, such as a private office or storage room; or an outdoor or mobile temporary space, such as a pop-up tent or a company car
  • Basic amenities that will be available to make the space functional for expressing milk, such as a chair and a flat surface for a breast pump
  • How the space will be made private, shielded from view, and free from intrusion by coworkers and the public
  • Who will be responsible for cleaning and maintaining the space
  • How the space will be scheduled if there is more than one employee using the lactation space

Roles and responsibilities

Establish clear expectations for the employer and all employees. For example:

  • Companies and businesses can educate supervisors, managers, and employees about the benefits of and legal requirements for supporting nursing mothers.
  • Supervisors can assume responsibility for informing all pregnant women about their options for expressing milk before maternity leave and for working out scheduling and space for individual employees as needed.
  • Employees can assume responsibility for notifying supervisors as soon as possible of their needs and for keeping the milk expression space clean.
  • Coworkers can support nursing mothers by filling in during pumping breaks, knowing that breastfeeding mothers need to pump about every 3 hours, understanding that mothers who need a break to pump are not trying to avoid their work duties, and being supportive of the flexibility that mothers need to balance breastfeeding with work. Coworkers can also be assured that breastfed babies are healthier, which means that an employee who breastfeeds is less likely to miss work to care for a sick baby.

What should a lactation room include?

In addition to a chair and a flat surface for pumping equipment, nursing mothers appreciate lactation spaces that include:

  • Lockers or hooks for their belongings while pumping
  • Electrical outlets to plug in an electric breast pump or recharge a battery-powered pump. Double electric multi-user pumps are quicker than manual pumps and are helpful for working moms on a tight schedule.
  • Comfortable seating. Milk flows more quickly when a woman is comfortable and relaxed.
  • Breast pumps provided on-site by the company. Women bring their own attachments (breast shields and milk collection containers) but do not have to carry a potentially large and heavy motorized pump to work.
  • A white noise machine or similar device for common areas. Pumps can be noisy, and some women may be embarrassed about disturbing coworkers with the sound of a pump in a shared space.
  • A small refrigerator or cooler for women to store their milk. Breastmilk is food and may be stored in a company refrigerator in the same way other food is stored.
  • A sink with running water close by. Women can quickly clean breast pump attachments after a pumping break.
  • A mirror to adjust clothing after pumping
  • Cleaning supplies like paper towels and wipes to clean the space after use
  • Information about breastfeeding support services, such as the Office on Women’s Health no-cost breastfeeding Helpline at 1-800-994-9662. The Helpline is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time. Help is available in English or Spanish from a breastfeeding peer counselor who has breastfed and received training to help other women with breastfeeding questions.

What should a lactation or breastfeeding support program include?

In addition to providing time and space for nursing mothers, some businesses actively promote breastfeeding through education and counseling. A comprehensive lactation program might involve:

  • Contracting with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in the community to provide direct assistance to employees. Lactation consultants often teach classes on-site, educate and consult with employees, and visit employees at home or in the hospital during their maternity leave. A lactation consultant can help a mother get off to a good start with breastfeeding. A consultant can teach her how to express milk effectively and how to use the breast pump and can help her address any concerns about breastfeeding after returning to work. Find a lactation consultant at the International Lactation Consultant Association.
  • Programs for breastfeeding spouses and partners. Some companies recognize the return on investment for breastfeeding by offering educational programs for spouses and partners as well as to breastfeeding employees.
  • Providing resources in the lactation space. Simple materials in the milk expression room can help women work breastfeeding into their work schedule. Contact your local health department or breastfeeding coalition for suggestions of appropriate books, pamphlets, and other materials to include.
  • Providing group education. Many businesses offer brown bag lunches for pregnant women and their partners. Monthly meetings for postpartum mothers give them the opportunity to share experiences.
  • Offering or facilitating back-to-work consultations. Lactation consultants, on-site nurses, or human resource managers can provide one-on-one consultations with mothers to assist in their transition back to work.
  • Providing access to local resources. A local hospital; health department; Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) agency; or breastfeeding coalition can provide assistance. These organizations recommend appropriate materials and local resources. They also provide training for managers and supervisors.

Why should businesses support breastfeeding moms at work?

Supporting nursing moms at work is not only the right thing to do, it can also help your business or company. Science overwhelmingly shows that breastfed babies are sick less often.2 As a result, moms who breastfeed are significantly less likely to miss work in their infant’s first year of life.3

Having a formal lactation support program, such as a company-wide policy and designated space for pumping, shows employees that your company supports breastfeeding moms at work. That support can mean that employees are more likely to return after maternity leave4 and have higher job satisfaction.5 Productive, satisfied, and experienced employees mean less employee turnover and lower costs in recruiting and training.

Business benefits of a formal lactation support program include:

  • Lower health care costs. Not only are breastfed babies sick less often, but moms who breastfeed are healthier too. The longer a mom breastfeeds, the less likely she is to experience breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.2 And exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life helps prevent an unplanned pregnancy in that time.2 An important study several years ago showed that Cigna Insurance Company saved $240,000 a year just in health care expenses among women who breastfed their infants.6
  • Lower absenteeism rates. Because babies are healthier when they are breastfed, their parents are less likely to miss work. One-day absences to care for sick children occur more than twice as often among parents whose infants are not breastfed.3 And if breastfed babies do get sick, they have fewer doctor’s office visits, need fewer medicines, and are less likely to be hospitalized.7 This means that parents are absent from work for less time.
  • Higher retention rates. Research shows that women who receive support to express milk at work are more productive and loyal to the company. They are also more likely to return from maternity leave and often come back to work earlier.8 In a study of five different corporations with lactation support programs, 94% of employees returned to their company after maternity leave, compared with the national average at the time of only 59%.4

Will other employees think breastfeeding mothers are getting special treatment?

Breastfeeding and working takes a lot of time, coordination, and dedication from a mother. It’s not easy, and working mothers taking pumping breaks are not goofing off or trying to get out of work. They’re taking care of a biological need to express milk and also improving the health of their families. And studies show that most nursing mothers take just 2 to 3 breaks per workday, for a total time of less than 1 hour per workday to pump.9

Supporting nursing mothers in the workplace brings bottom-line benefits that help all employees. Breastfeeding mothers and their families have lower health care costs, are absent from work less often, and are more likely to return to work when there is breastfeeding support at work. Also, most employers are required by the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law to provide breaks to pump milk.

When employees need to cover for a nursing mother’s pumping break, it’s not very different from covering for an employee who needs a break for the restroom, to eat, or to call home to check on family members. It is easier to schedule around preplanned pumping breaks than to deal with unexpected absences due to illness or to train a new employee if a mother does not return after maternity leave.

Many businesses find that involving other employees in the initial planning for a lactation policy and space helps bring about teamwork and a sense of fairness for all. Learn more about the business case for breastfeeding and how to create a policy at work to support nursing employees.

How can our business promote our breastfeeding support services among employees?

The most important step to promote your breastfeeding support services is to have managers and supervisors talk about your policies with any pregnant employee. When a woman tells her supervisor she is pregnant, the supervisor should discuss the company’s lactation support program and policies when talking about maternity leave logistics. Another effective way to support a pregnant employee’s breastfeeding goals is to ask women who have used the organization’s breastfeeding support services in the past to talk about their experience.

How a woman chooses to feed her baby is a personal choice, but all women should be informed about a company’s breastfeeding support services. Many women report that when their supervisor brings up the subject, they feel valued and respected. Some moms are relieved when their supervisor introduces the topic of expressing milk at work, because it shows that the supervisor supports breastfeeding moms and that the company values the health of its employees.

Mothers state that it also helps them feel good about their employer and increases the likelihood they will return to work after their maternity leave.5

Where can I find more information about laws related to breastfeeding at work?

  • U.S. Department of Labor
    The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is responsible for enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act and provides compliance assistance on federal requirements under the law. This includes the full language of the law and all provisions and information on how to comply. For more information, visit the Department of Labor website or call 1-866-4-USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).
  • United States Breastfeeding Committee
    The United States Breastfeeding Committee has detailed information on options and resources for compliance with the law.
  • HealthCare.gov
    Most insurance companies are required to cover breastfeeding support, counseling, and equipment for the duration of breastfeeding. This includes covering the cost of a breast pump and help or counseling from a health care professional about breastfeeding.

Did we answer your question about breastfeeding requirements in the workplace?

For more information about employer responsibilities, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:

Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Results: Breastfeeding Rates.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2012). Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Pediatrics, 129(3), e827–e841.
  3. Cohen, R., Mrtek, M. B., & Mrtek, R. G. (1995). Comparison of maternal absenteeism and infant illness rates among breastfeeding and formula-feeding women in two corporations. American Journal of Health Promotion, 10(2), 148–153.
  4. Ortiz, J., McGilligan, K., & Kelly, P. (2004). Duration of breast milk expression among working mothers enrolled in an employer-sponsored lactation program. Pediatric Nursing, 30(2), 111–119.
  5. Waite, W. M., & Christakis, D. (2015). Relationship of maternal perceptions of workplace breastfeeding support and job satisfaction. Breastfeeding Medicine, 10(4), 222–227.
  6. CSR Wire. (2000). UCLA Study of CIGNA Corporate Lactation Program Proves that Helping Working Moms Breastfeed Is Good Business.
  7. Ball, T. M., & Wright, A. L. (1999). Health care costs of formula-feeding in the first year of life. Pediatrics, 103(4), 870–876.
  8. Del Bono, E., & Pronzato, C. D. (2012). Does Breastfeeding Support at Work Help Mothers and Employers at the Same Time? (PDF, 417 KB) Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) Discussion Paper No. 6619.
  9. Slusser, W. M., Lange, L., Dickson, V., Hawkes, C., Cohen, R. (2004). Breast milk expression in the workplace: A look at frequency and time. Journal of Human Lactation, 20(2), 164–169.