By Alexa Spencer | Word In Black
(WIB) – It’s been a long time coming for working, breastfeeding moms. On top of limited maternity leave, when moms do return to work, many are faced with a lack of support from employers when pumping breast milk.
But things are looking up after the U.S. Senate passed the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act in December 2022.
The PUMP Act — passed as part of the 2023 omnibus spending bill — requires employers to provide break time and a private, non-bathroom space for all breastfeeding employees.
The act extends protections to salaried workers, who weren’t included in the 2010 Break Time for Nursing Mothers law. The legislation provided only hourly employees with time and space to pump, leaving nearly one-in-four women of childbearing age unprotected, according to the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee.
But now, any lactating professional, seasonal, or agriculture worker — hourly or salaried — is entitled to workplace support.
Breastfeeding Discrimination in the Workplace
More breastfeeding support at work could mean more mothers and babies accessing the health benefits that nursing offers.
When breastfed, infants have a lower chance of developing asthma, obesity, and other illnesses. For moms, nursing lowers their risk for breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and postpartum depression.
Although research on the health benefits of breastfeeding is vast, and employers have been required to provide accommodations for more than a decade, some mothers still find themselves being forced to choose between nursing and losing their jobs.
According to the Center for WorkLife Law, lactation discrimination in the workplace can look like being denied pumping breaks when in pain or leaking milk, or being fired just for asking.
In some instances, lactating employees are denied a private place to express milk and receive inappropriate gestures from co-workers, such as comments on their “tits” or being mooed at.
Lactation discrimination impacts women at all socio-economic levels but has particularly harsh effects for low-wage workers, who are more likely to be women of color.CENTER FOR WORKLIFE LAW, EXPOSED: DISCRIMINATION AGAINST BREASTFEEDING WORKERS
The Center for WorkLife Law reviewed breastfeeding discrimination cases for a 2019 report and found that three-fourths involved economic loss, with nearly two-thirds ending in job loss.
Additionally, lactating workers who are discriminated against become vulnerable to health issues like painful infections, diminished milk supply, or weaning their babies earlier than recommended by doctors.
These acts could significantly impact Black women and other women of color.
“Lactation discrimination impacts women at all socio-economic levels but has particularly harsh effects for low-wage workers, who are more likely to be women of color,” the authors wrote in the report.
The PUMP Act comes at a time when Black mothers are less likely to initiate or sustain breastfeeding.
Data from 2015 published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that only 69% of Black moms initiated breastfeeding, compared to 86% of white moms.
And when it comes to exclusive breastfeeding — where infants are fed breast milk only — 17% of Black mothers nursed their babies for up to six months, versus 29% of white mothers.
While the Break Time Law entitled breastfeeding workers to one year of workplace protection following the birth of their child or children, the PUMP Act extends those rights to two years.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The Senate also passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act — a law that requires employers to make accommodations for employees experiencing pregnancy or childbirth-related medical conditions.
Specifically, the bill considers it unlawful to:
- fail to make reasonable accommodations to known limitations of such employees unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on an entity’s business operation;
- require a qualified employee affected by such a condition to accept an accommodation other than any reasonable accommodation arrived at through an interactive process;
- deny employment opportunities based on the need of the entity to make such reasonable accommodations to a qualified employee;
- require such employees to take paid or unpaid leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided; or
- take adverse action in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment against a qualified employee requesting or using such reasonable accommodations.
Tina Sherman, who serves as senior campaign director for maternal justice at MomsRising, says America’s “moms and families won a major, meaningful, long overdue victory” with the passing of the PUMP and Pregnant Workers Fairness Acts.
‘When lawmakers enact these two essential measures, breastfeeding moms will no longer be forced to pump breastmilk in bathrooms, cars, closets, and cafeterias; and fewer pregnant workers will be forced out of their jobs because employers deny them reasonable accommodations like carrying water bottles and taking more bathroom breaks,” she said in a statement.
“Both these measures will especially help low-income women and women of color, and they will make America’s moms and families more economically secure.”