Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Contact La Leche League International

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Jen Barber by Chris Davison Features
Kathy Abbott, IBCLC
Photo: Jen Barber & Daisy by Chris Davison


Recently a new mom who was on her first day back at work put out a desperate plea to her Facebook friends. Like most breastfeeding mothers she had brought along a double electric pump in good working condition. Her employer, however, had been caught off guard by her request for “pumping breaks.” Extra breaks were out of the question. “If” she needed to pump (like she had a choice) she could do it during her 15-minute morning break or her half-hour lunch break. Not only that, she had to “use the bathroom,” which to her horror she discovered had no electrical outlets. With her breasts ready to burst she put out an immediate SOS to her online friends, “Does anyone know how to hand express?”

Unfortunately, what neither the desperate mom nor the heartless employer knew at the time was that, thanks to the new healthcare package passed by Congress, as of March 23, 2010, all businesses in the US with 50 or more employees are required to provide breastfeeding mothers both a “reasonable” amount of break time to express their milk and a place “other than a bathroom” which is “shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.” As any pumping mom can tell you, a guarantee of privacy is an absolute necessity in order to get a good let-down. Imagine men being asked to collect their semen: how many would be able to do it knowing someone could barge in on them at any time?!

Best of all, the new law is designed to cover everyone. Your local Starbucks might only have 30 workers but when you include everyone at corporate headquarters (who’ve had a lactation room for years!) plus all their other employees, it’s easy to see that they won’t be eligible for exemption any time soon. Even having fewer than 50 employees doesn’t guarantee exemption. An employer has to prove that compliance would cause “undue hardship” to be 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.” In other words, rather than making mothers beg for break time it is now up to the employer to plead their case for exemption.

US mothers get time to pump: defining “reasonable”

To me the question of what constitutes a “reasonable” amount of break time is an interesting one. What is “reasonable” for one mother may not work for another. For starters not all women work in an office. (One mom who worked in a party supply store told me that her milk let down every time a baby entered the store and how she had to stop and pump immediately!) Women who can’t afford a double electric pump will need more time to collect their milk. One also has to consider commuting time. The longer a mother is separated from her baby the more milk she will need to supply each day. Although the law covers babies up to a year old the number of breaks needed will vary according to the baby’s age: the younger the baby the more frequently a mother needs to express. As one colleague put it, the need for pumping breaks varies so much from individual to individual that the time needed shouldn’t really be quantified at all; instead it should be treated the same as bathroom breaks. Unless you are working on an assembly line you should be allowed to take care of your bodily needs as they arise. In other words, when you have to go, you have to go. No one should have to “hold it” especially when the “it” in this case is the very sustenance that makes our babies thrive!

For more information about the Department of Labor’s interpretation of the law see Fact Sheet #73: Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA (revised 2013)

Kathy Abbott IBCLC as “The Curious Lactivist” likes to reflect on the ways that breastfeeding is presented in the news media. As a private Lactation Consultant and LLL Leader she is constantly learning from the women she works with and as the mother of a smart, vivacious, totally awesome daughter she is renewed in her faith that the next generation will most certainly get it right!

If you are a working breastfeeding mother, do YOU get a reasonable time to pump?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.