By Tahra Johnson
Breastfeeding provides health benefits to both an infant and nursing mother.
Infants who are exclusively breastfed tend to need fewer health care visits, prescriptions and hospitalizations, resulting in a lower total medical care cost compared to never-breastfed infants. Nursing mothers see an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight and a reduced risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and osteoporosis.
Policymakers at the state and federal level seek ways to promote breastfeeding including making accommodations in the workplace for nursing mothers.
The federal Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth each time such employee has need to express milk. The employer must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to express breast milk.
If these requirements impose undue hardship, an employer that employs fewer than 50 employees is not subject to them. The federal requirements shall not preempt a state law that provides greater protections to employees.
Additionally, at least 29 states have laws addressing breastfeeding in the workplace. NCSL’s Breastfeeding State Laws webpage provides numerous examples of state approaches to supporting nursing mothers in the workplace. NCSL’s maternal and child health database includes enacted legislation from 2018-2019 related to breastfeeding. In the 2019 legislative session at least three states enacted laws related to supporting breastfeeding in the workplace.
The federal Office of Compliance Initiatives, Wage and Hour Division, Women's Bureau, and Office of Disability Employment Policy within the US Department of Labor (DOL) are seeking public input on how DOL can help mothers and employers understand their rights and responsibilities relating to workplace accommodations for nursing mothers.
To collect this input, these federal agencies are hosting the Supporting Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Online Dialogue for nursing mothers, employers and policymakers to submit their ideas.
Specifically, DOL is interested in learning from state and local governments about their approaches to raising awareness about the federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law. This dialogue provides an excellent opportunity for state legislators and legislative staff to help the federal government improve its outreach around these requirements and better support nursing mothers in the workplace.
The dialogue is open for comments through Friday.
NCSL is a partner of the State Exchange on Employment and Disability—an effort launched by the federal Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) to work with state policymaker membership organizations on disability employment policy. ODEP is a host of the Supporting Nursing Mothers in the Workplace online dialogue.
For more information:
Tahra Johnson is a program director in NCSL's Health Program.