Know Your Rights: Breast Pumping Laws in the United States

Information to help you advocate.

Many new moms ready to start breastfeeding worry about pumping when they go back to work. Questions swirl and the overwhelm sets in. What if I don’t have somewhere private to pump? What if my employer won’t let me take breaks?

Will I need to decide between pumping milk for my baby or keeping my job?

Mama, you have rights. In fact, you have a right to pump milk anywhere for your baby within the United States, even at work. To give you peace of mind, you’ll find state breastfeeding laws and more right here.

Quick Tip: Print a copy of the laws found here in this guide and keep them on you at all times. If your employer or a colleague questions your right, you’ll be armed with the tools you need to fight back.

History of Pumping at Work

Moms have been breastfeeding since the beginning of time. Yet, the freedom and protection to pump at work is a fairly new thing. Crazy, right? In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. The goal of the ACA was to reform healthcare and provide better coverage for those with low incomes.

The ACA contained many provisions, including Section 4207. This provision amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 and requires employers to offer reasonable break time for moms who breastfeed and need to pump.

What’s Included Inside Section 4207?

Section 4207 provided much-needed protection to working moms who needed time to pump throughout the workday. The provision requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private location to do so that’s free from intrusion.

The provision doesn’t say how long your breaks are supposed to last. This is still up to the employer. And your employer is still not required to pay you for those breaks if you take them during work time. Yet, the provision states that you have the right to take these breaks up until your baby is a year old.

The provision also states that employers must provide you with a private place to pump that isn’t a bathroom. Some solutions include unused break rooms, offices or designated rooms for nursing mothers.

What Happens If an Employer Doesn’t Follow the FLSA?

If your employer fails to provide you with a private place to pump or reasonable break time, they’re in violation of the FLSA. And according to the US Department of Labor, willful violations can result in criminal prosecution, hefty monetary fines or even time in prison. Yikes.

Additional Pumping at Work Protection Laws

In 2019, Congress also passed the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019. This act requires certain public buildings to have a designated breastfeeding space that isn’t a bathroom. The room must have a chair, a table or surface and an outlet for plugging in breast pumps.

The Affordable Care Act also requires new health insurance plans to provide coverage for breastfeeding supplies and support. Better yet, they must be covered without the need to pay a copay or meet a deductible.

Quick tip: Wondering if a breast pump is covered under your insurance plan? It just might be. So, before you purchase one on your own, go ahead and give your insurance company a call. You just might save some serious cash.

State Breastfeeding Laws

Not only are you protected by federal law, but all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, have laws that protect your rights to breastfeed in public and in private.

Plus, the federal requirements stated in the ACA can’t “preempt” or prevent state laws that provide greater protections to nursing employees. This means that if your state provides better protection than federal law, the state law takes priority.

State Breastfeeding Laws Overview

According to the NCSL, 31 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. This means you are free to breastfeed in public, whether you wish to cover up or go free.

In 30 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, you’ll find specific laws on breastfeeding in the workplace (more on this later). And in 22 states and Puerto Rico, breastfeeding mothers do not have to attend jury duty while they nurse their babies.

Other unique breastfeeding laws exist, depending on the state you call home. For example, New Jersey requires breast pumps and replacement parts to be exempt from sales tax. And in California, schools must provide a private place to pump and breastfeed for nursing high school students.

State Laws for Pumping at Work

As mentioned earlier, 30 states have laws regarding pumping at work that deliver added protection to employees. Here are some examples of these laws and what they might mean for you:

  • Illinois: In Illinois, breastfeeding moms have all the protections required by federal law. Yet, the state also requires all employers to offer pumping or breastfeeding accommodations to all employees, regardless of whether they’re hourly or not.

  • Georgia: Georgia’s laws also overlap with federal law. Yet, Georgia law requires all employees to receive required break time and that time must be paid. It also doesn’t limit employees to one year of pumping as federal law does.

  • Washington: Washington’s state law expands on federal law. It requires that employers accommodate pumping employees for two years instead of one. And these laws apply to all employers with only eight or more employees.

Quick tip: Looking for the pumping at work laws for your specific state? Visit your state’s website by doing a quick Google search. There, you should find links to applicable laws in your state.

Do Employers Have to Let You Pump?

Yes. Your employer can’t refuse your right to pump while at work based on federal law and state law, if applicable. If they refuse your right to pump, they’ll be in violation of federal law, which comes with serious consequences.

What can your employer do? Unless your state requires paid breaks for pumping, your employer can ask you to clock out before starting your pumping session. Your employer can also ask you to use your standard 15-minute breaks and your lunch break to pump unless your state law states otherwise.

I Don’t Feel Like I Have Enough Time to Finish Pumping at Work. What Can I Do?

While some moms can finish a pumping session in 15 minutes, others may need 30 minutes or more to empty their breasts. No two mamas are the same when it comes to breastfeeding. And unfortunately, not emptying your breasts during a pumping session can negatively affect your milk supply.

If you don’t feel like you have enough time to drain your breasts before you’re rushing back to your desk, speak to your employer. You can try reaching out to your manager or your HR department, depending on which is best for you.

How Much Time Should I Ask For?

Are you going back to work soon? Planning on asking for an increase in your pumping break time? If so, how much time should you ask for? As mentioned above, you’ll want enough time to completely drain your breasts. Yet, you’ll also need time to clean your breast pump and parts, which you must do each time you pump to avoid bacteria growth.

Of course, you’ll need a few minutes to pack up your pumping supplies and store your breast milk. For some moms, all of this can be done in a 30-minute break. For others, it could take longer. You should have a handle on how much time it takes if you’ve started pumping before going back to work. Tell your employer what you need, mama.

Can I Get Fired for Pumping at Work?

You can’t get fired simply because you need to pump while at work. Based on federal law, your employer is required to provide reasonable break time and a private place for you to do so.

What is considered “reasonable” is up to your employer. It’s best to speak with your employer about your pumping needs. Most nursing mamas will take 2-3 breaks within an 8-hour workday to pump. This is keeping with a baby’s typical feeding schedule, which is around every 2-3 hours.

Should I File a Complaint?

If your employer is refusing your right to pump at work or if you feel you’ve been fired based on your need to pump, consider filing a complaint with the US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD). To do so, you can call the WHD at 1-866-487-9243 or visit their website.

The WHD is there to keep employers accountable when it comes to fair labor standards, including breastfeeding. You should also know that your employer can’t fire you or retaliate against you for filing a complaint. Your complaint will also be completely confidential.

Breastfeed How You Need To, Mama—It’s Your Right

Mama, you have a right to pump at work, so you can feed your sweet bundle of joy the way you see fit. And for a better and more discreet pumping experience, try out the Willow wearable breast pump. Or, visit our blog for more tips and tricks for pumping at work.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of medical professionals. It should not be used to diagnose or treat medical conditions or problems. Please contact your healthcare provider with questions or concerns.
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