August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. It’s an opportunity to recognize the importance of breastfeeding and celebrate breastfeeding, while also considering the challenges still before us in ensuring all mothers can breastfeed if they choose. Unfortunately, too many nursing parents—particularly those who work in low wage jobs and mothers of color—are still being forced to choose between breastfeeding and earning a paycheck, oftentimes suffering negative health consequences as a result. Therefore, our workplace laws have an important role to play in promoting access to breastfeeding.
A major barrier to breastfeeding is a lack of access to time and space in the workplace to pump. Due to gaps in federal law, states have had to fill in to provide these critical protections. Recently, Georgia passed a law requiring employers to provide reasonable paid break time to employees who need to express breast milk. South Carolina also recently passed a lactation law providing accommodations for employees even in smaller workplaces. On the federal level, we’re committed to pushing for The PUMP Act, which will strengthen the 2010 Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law, extending the law’s protections to 9 million employees who are currently uncovered due to the law’s inclusion in the Fair Labor Standards Act, including nurses, teachers, and software engineers.
Another major obstacle many women face in breastfeeding is a lack of paid leave following the birth of their child. Paid leave is an essential tool in establishing and sustaining breastfeeding: Research shows that mothers who return to work within 12 weeks of giving birth are less likely to breastfeed at all; even if they do initiate breastfeeding, they breastfeed for less time than mothers who stay home longer. Yet a shocking one in four women in the U.S. return to work within just two weeks of giving birth. Fortunately, eight states and D.C. have passed paid family and medical leave laws, covering millions of workers. We are continuing to push for Congress to pass paid leave for all and ensure every worker can care for themselves and their loved ones, including by breastfeeding if they choose to do so.
National Breastfeeding Month closes out with Black Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 25-31)—a week dedicated to supporting and uplifting Black mothers, who too often face increased barriers to breastfeeding. Because of institutionalized racism, Black mothers are less likely to have access to paid leave and breastfeeding accommodations, and are facing a crisis of shameful racial disparities in maternal and infant health and mortality. This National Breastfeeding Month and always, we are committed to following the lead of Black leaders and working to support Black breastfeeding mothers by dismantling barriers in our workplaces. To learn more, read our interview with Tennessee breastfeeding promotion and advocacy expert Dr. Flora Ukoli on how to support and uplift Black breastfeeding parents.
For information about your rights around breastfeeding in the workplace, visit our state-by-state resource Talking to Your Boss About Your Pump.