Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers

As most of you have probably heard by now, the new federal healthcare legislation (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) includes a provision creating new baseline protections for working and pumping moms.  Since there is still a great deal of confusion about what this law actually does and to whom it applies, Best for Babes asked me to write a quick overview of this law, similar to the piece I wrote for the current issue of Clinical Lactation.

Who is covered?

-The Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and therefore, only applies to those in FLSA non-exempt jobs.  A worker can check her pay stub to determine her job’s FLSA exempt or non-exempt status.  As a general rule, most retail, restaurant, and other jobs that pay by the hour are not exempt from the FLSA and thus are subject to the law.  Most salaried positions that do not

receive overtime pay are exempt from the FLSA, and thus mothers in these positions are not covered by the new law.

-Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not automatically exempt, but may be able to avoid compliance by arguing that the law creates an undue hardship.  The undue hardship exemption is not available to employers with more than 50 employees, but fewer than 50 at a particular office.

-This law only covers mothers pumping for a baby under one year of age.

What are the protections?

-The Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law requires that employers give nursing mothers covered by this law reasonable time to express milk.  It does not require that break time used for milk expression be paid break time.  The law does not prescribe requirements as to the frequency or duration of pumping breaks, but instead looks to what is reasonable in a given situation.  The Department of Labor’s Wages and Hours

Division (WHD), which has been charged with interpretation and enforcement of the Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law “expects that nursing mothers typically will need breaks to express milk two to three times during an eight hour shift.” (Request for information)

-The law requires that employers provide breastfeeding employees with a reasonable location to express milk.  Employers do not have to provide a dedicated pumping room, but the location must be “a place, other than the bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.”  The WHD is still trying to determine what accommodations are necessary for employees who work in more non-traditional settings that may not have private space available.

What is not included in this law?

-Break time used for milk expression does not have to be paid.  However, when other employees are already provided with compensated breaks, this law does require that mothers who use their break time to express milk be compensated in the same way as other employees’ breaks.  An employee must be completely relieved from duty while taking a break covered by this law, or the employer must compensate the employee for her time.

-Nothing requires an employer to allow a mother to bring her baby to work.  This law only covers milk expression and pumping, not direct breastfeeding.

-Employers do not have to provide a dedicated pumping room, pumping equipment, or a refrigerator for milk storage, but they must provide a place for the mother to store her equipment and cooler for expressed milk.

What about state laws?

-The Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law provides a baseline of coverage but does not preempt state laws.  States may provide broader protections than this, and many do.

Where can working mothers learn more?

-More information about the Federal Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law can be found through the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee and the Department of Labor.

-A nursing mother who feels her rights under this law have been violated is urged to file a complaint through the WHD.

What has your experience with breastfeeding and work been like?  Did it change when the law changed?

image credit: ACPL

Kori Martin, JD, LLLL lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and three breastfed children.   In addition to leading a local La Leche League group, Kori serves as the Legal Professional Liaison for LLL of Texas, writes on topics related to breastfeeding and the law, and is a member of her state and local breastfeeding coalitions.  A graduate with honors from The University of Texas School of Law, instead of practicing as an attorney, Kori works passionately to help mothers and babies overcome barriers to breastfeeding success.

5 thoughts on “Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers

  1. I work at a children’s hospital, and will say that their policy is generous (two half hour paid breaks, one half hour unpaid break in an 8 hour shift), for ALL employees. They also provide hospital-grade pumps in several lactation rooms around campus.

    My concern is currently mainly in the duration of time that pumping is “allowed.” Not all children stop nursing regularly at one year of age. It’s not like a switch is magically flipped that says, “Oh, I’m coming up on one year of age, better wean the X number of hours a day Mommy is away.” My daughter will be 11 months next week, and it’s already causing a lot of stress for me as to how I’ll continue to work while not sabotaging our BF relationship.


    1. It doesn’t sound like you’d be restricted from pumping after one year at your job. It seems like you could still use one of your break times for that purpose. I wouldn’t be so sure you’d have to, though. I am now pumping for my 3rd child. I breastfed the first 2 for about 2 years each, however, I did not express milk at work after about one year. I found I would be mildly uncomfortable at the end of a shift at times, but had no problems waiting it out.


  2. I was really pretty lucky to have a very supportive supervisor, a private, windowless office, and an amazing support network of other working-pumping moms. I wish that every mom could have a situation that was as positive and supportive as mine!


  3. My work allows two paid 10 minute breaks in addition to an unpaid lunch hour each day. So what I have had to do is take two 15-20 minute breaks, pump during lunch and make up the 10-20 minutes I go over during my lunch time. Basically it results in me having about 20 actual minutes of lunch. It’s been pretty stressful, but it’s worked out ok. At first I was told I could pump in a room that is seldom used but did not have a lock. Shortly after starting I was walked in on. Now I get to pump in a storage room since it’s the only room with a lock. I have a key, but don’t know who else has a key so I am always afraid someone will walk in on me. I am surrounded by boxes and can barely get to the small table I have to balance all of my pumping supplies on. This has been far from ideal, but I’ve made it work so far.


  4. I’ve been pumping here at work going on one month now. So far so good, I must say. I found it easier to express here at my desk rather than go up to the third floor into a shower room with nothing to keep me occupied. At my desk, I can pump as long as I want while still working since my job mostly consists of data entry. Oh and I don’t just have the “ladies” out for everyone to see. No, no. I always have my nursing shawl on hand. ALSO, instead of buying one of those expensive hands free bustiers, I found this neat rubber band technique online that holds my breast flanges in place. I have yet to run into any real problems so for that, I am indeed grateful.


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