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Are New Mothers Allowed to Take a Break for Nursing?


If you are a new working mom with a full time job, you are probably concerned about what will happen after you return to work from maternity leave. According to the CDC, in 2013 approximately 77% of infants were breastfed. If you are nursing your infant along with the large majority of mothers, deciding how to return to work while continuing to nurse is most likely a huge concern.

A question employees often ask is, "are new mothers allowed to take a break for nursing (or actually expressing breast milk)?" If your employer does allow you to take a break to express milk, you are likely to have many other related questions. This article will answer some of the most common ones.

Common Concerns for Nursing Mothers Returning to Work

Women who want to continue nursing their infants as long as possible often have many questions and concerns when they get ready to return to work, including: Will their employer allow them to take a break to express milk at work, and if so, will there be a private area for them to do so? How many breaks can she take and for how long? Will your employer pay you for your break? These seem like reasonable questions, but the most important question is whether your employer is required to provide any of these accommodations.

What Is the General Rule on Nursing at Work?

The Affordable Care Act has some application to the workplace. The Act, in fact, amends Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and addresses this issue directly. According to the Affordable Care Act, employers are required to provide (1) a reasonable break time for employees to express breast milk for nursing children for up to one year after a child's birth and (2) "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which can be used by employees to express breast milk." Only non-exempt employees under Section 7 of the FLSA are entitled to nursing breaks.

Additionally, many states have their own laws pertaining to nursing. Currently, forty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands have enacted their own laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. Ala. Code § 22-1-13.

Which Businesses Are Required to Follow This Rule?

Only employers with 50 or more employees are required to comply with this law. All part-time and full-time employees at all work sites are counted to determine whether the law applies to a particular employer. There is, however, one exception: an employer can be exempted if compliance would cause an undue hardship. This is determined by the difficulty or expense of compliance for a specific employer in comparison to the size, financial resources, nature, and structure of the employer's business.

How Long Can the Break Be?

As a general rule, it is expected that nursing mothers will need 2-3 breaks during an eight hour shift. While the amount of time needed to express milk varies for each mother, the typical break will be about 15-20 minutes. This is about the same amount of time many employers offer for paid breaks.

Will the Employee Be Compensated for Nursing Breaks?

Employers are not required to compensate nursing mothers for nursing breaks; however, if an employer already provides paid breaks, an employee who uses that break time to express milk must be paid in the same way other employees would be compensated. If an employer refuses to pay nursing mothers in a manner consistent with other employees, they may be found guilty of sexual discrimination.

Have More Questions? Call an Employment Law Attorney!

At Michel | King , we work to ensure that workers' rights are upheld at all times. If you have more questions concerning your employment rights or believe these have been infringed in any way, please contact a Birmingham employment lawyer from our firm today. We can be reached online or by phone at (205) 265-1880.

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