On Dec. 29, 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, a.k.a. the PUMP Act. This new legislation requires employers of all kinds to provide break time and adequate facilities for employees to pump breast milk. This means that workplaces—from retail stores and restaurants to warehouses and offices—must soon incorporate lactation space accommodation as a legal requirement.
Fortunately, implementing private, sanitary, and comfortable lactation spaces (i.e., mothers’ rooms) that meet nursing employees’ full range of needs as outlined by the legislation can be easy and inexpensive.
PUMP Act Explained
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend that mothers provide infants with breastmilk up until the age of two, if the health of the mother and baby allow for it. Previously, workplaces were set up in ways that often made meeting these parental responsibilities difficult. Without proper accommodation, many nursing employees may feel they have to choose between their jobs and meeting their infant and family needs.
The federal government first attempted to solve this problem in 2010 with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which established expectations that employers would provide break time and appropriate private space for nursing employees to express breast milk. However, this law contained significant loopholes, and the PUMP Act expands the right to break time and lactation space accommodation to nearly 9 million more workers—including teachers, registered nurses, and others.
The PUMP Act also establishes a legal process through which workers may hold their employers accountable for failing to provide the necessary lactation facilities. According to the law firm Foley & Lardner LLP, “If an employer violates the PUMP Act, an employee may file a complaint with the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division or bring a suit against the employer for damages.”
These enforcement provisions will kick in on April 28, 2023, which makes it an imperative for companies and organizations of all kinds to make arrangements for compliance with the new law as soon as possible.
Requirements for Lactation Space Under the PUMP Act
Complete Privacy: The PUMP Act specifies that employees must be provided with “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” Under the FLSA, a bathroom is not an allowable location for lactation, even if it’s a single-occupancy private restroom.
Function: An employer must provide private lactation space for nursing employees that is “functional as a space for expressing breast milk.” While lactation rooms are not required to be permanent, they need to be provided for up to a year after the employee gives birth. An employer may convert a temporary space for expressing milk, or make a space available as needed for the nursing employee before they return from maternity leave.
What is “functional space” for breastfeeding employees? Here are four straightforward guidelines for creating proper lactation space:
- Install furniture that facilitates comfort and cleanliness. Nursing employees require a supportive and upright chair, a small table, and additional flat surfaces in order to successfully use pumping equipment. Lactation chairs should help maintain an upright position for proper use of pumping equipment and to avoid milk spillage, as well as be bleach-cleanable for proper sanitation between individual uses.
- Ensure access to sufficient power supply. Mothers’ rooms should have at least two electrical outlets for powering breast pumps and other personal items. Having adequate power access leads to more productive pumping sessions, as it enables some employees to continue with their work tasks while pumping and multi-task effectively.
- Provide a private refrigerator. Providing a private refrigerator, even a compact mini fridge for a small room, allows breastfeeding employees to safely and securely store breast milk throughout the day. CDC guidelines call for breast milk to be stored at 40° F. It often feels vulnerable and unsanitary for employees to use a communal refrigerator for storage of breast milk.
- Provide access to a clean water supply. FDA guidelines for cleaning breast pumping equipment call for component parts to be cleaned after each use. FDA guidelines for cleaning after use advise that pump parts be rinsed and washed with soap and water. The American Academy of Pediatrics announced that placing plastic containers, including baby bottles, in the microwave can expose children to harmful chemicals, including Bisphenols (BPA) and phthalates. Therefore, a microwave is not a suitable sanitation option or an adequate replacement for access to running water.
To Renovate or Not to Renovate?
While some businesses may choose to renovate in order to provide these essential lactation room functions, this is often not necessary.
Prefabricated lactation stations for nursing employees are already on the market, which can easily be installed in existing rooms and spaces without expensive renovation costs. Modular privacy enclosures are also available and easy to install. Lactation stations can even include portable sinks for easy access to running water without the need to tie in to building plumbing. The best options include refrigerators as well as supportive chairs designed for pumping.
Rental options are ideal for temporary lactation space accommodations. They can reduce overall costs and can quickly address the needs of nursing employees before they return from maternity leave without the permanent commitment of added renovation.
Businesses Benefit from Installing Lactation Stations
While many companies and organizations may not have considered the benefits of providing proper lactation accommodation previously, now that the law requires it, workplace leaders will be pleased to discover that incorporating these spaces is not just good for mothers and parents, but good for business.
Nursing employees become more productive at work when they aren’t struggling to meet their new child’s needs. They also tend to become happier with their employers, which means retention rates increase.
According to Forbes, “Employees of companies with lactation support programs have seen a 94.2% retention rate (compared to the 59% national average). Furthermore, employees whose companies provide breastfeeding support consistently report improved morale, better satisfaction with their jobs, and higher productivity.”
But that’s not all. Company culture benefits when care and support is extended to new mothers and parents. Others take notice and appreciate the care with which leadership supports employee health. This makes a broad range of employees feel more secure and seen, contributing to a more positive workplace culture all around as well as increased productivity and health for breastfeeding employees—a win-win for both employees and their employers.
Della Leapman is co-founder and chief operating officer of Nessel. She designs and implements lactation space and health-centered solutions for organizations big and small. Her background is in project management, owner’s representation, and facilities management. She earned her master’s degree in Architecture from Columbia University School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.
Content in this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.