The legal rights of workers vary based on a number of different factors. For example, hourly workers receive different protections than salaried workers. Similarly, direct employees receive certain protections that do not apply to workers classified as independent contractors.
While some worker protections are universal, others vary depending on your age, gender or even medical condition. The legal protections extended to breastfeeding mothers are a perfect example. These protections apply to only a small portion of the working population, but they are incredibly important for equal rights under the laws.
If you or your spouse is currently pregnant or breastfeeding, understanding the legal protections afforded to lactating mothers is very important.
Breastfeeding, like pregnancy, is a protected medical condition
Lactation is the natural byproduct of a pregnancy. In fact, even mothers who make no effort to breastfeed will still experience lactation. For many decades, medical professionals advised women to rely on formula instead of their own bodies to provide food for their babies.
More recent research has indicated that breastfed babies have more robust immune systems and may even have better brain development than their formula-fed peers. This research has led medical professionals in the United States to recommend breastfeeding babies, if possible. Many new mothers also hope to return to work after giving birth, which can complicate breastfeeding.
To facilitate the best possible outcomes, the government has created protections for women who choose to breastfeed or pump to provide breast milk for their infants. Much like pregnancy, lactation is a protected medical condition. Employers may not discriminate against women who breastfeed when it comes to hiring, firing or promotions.
Lactating mothers have a right to take extra breaks while working
The ability of a woman's body to produce milk after birth is one of the many impressive biological feats attached to bringing new life into this world. Unfortunately, there is no way to turn off lactation when it becomes inconvenient, such as when a woman must be at work for eight hours and away from her child.
The result of that prolonged time away is often painful swelling of the breast tissue and even leaking milk. Women typically need to pump or breastfeed their child at least every two hours to maintain a steady supply.
Under law, employers must permit lactating women regular breaks as necessary to maintain their supply of breast-milk. Those breaks may be unpaid, and it is legal to allow them to overlap with existing breaks, such as a meal break.
Additionally, nursing women or those pumping milk for their babies, should also receive a private space in which to express milk. The space may not be a bathroom, and it should not be accessible to other employees. If your employer refuses to accommodate your lactation when you return to work, you may need to assert your rights.