Lactation Room Requirements for Employers: Laying the Groundwork for Compliance

Breastfeeding habits shifted after the formula crisis, with more moms choosing to continue providing breast milk to their infants after returning to work. To provide this vital nutrition, on-site and hybrid workers will need the full support of their employers to pump milk while away from baby. With new legislation in effect, parents now have even broader protection regarding breastfeeding rights at work and nearly every employer is required under law to provide a private lactation space. How do all these recent changes affect employers? In this two-part primer, we explore the best practices for ensuring your organization is not just fully compliant, but goes beyond the bare minimum to provide a breastfeeding friendly culture and welcoming lactation space that drives employee satisfaction and retention.

Assembling breast pump at home or at work

Why Breastfeeding Parents Need a Lactation Space

Feeding infants breast milk requires tremendous time and energy from a family. Leading medical organizations cite the multitude of health benefits to infants and mothers, and advocate for better support from employers to ensure breastfeeding parents can continue providing this critical nutrition after maternity leave. Some may view breastfeeding as simply a lifestyle choice, but it’s not. It’s a health imperative that calls for more robust support systems for a family to reach their goals. Breastfeeding is far from free. For the first few weeks, an infant may feed as often as 8 to 12 times per day. Assuming a federal minimum wage, the time cost of breastfeeding one baby would run $588 to $1,765 in the first month alone.¹

Despite the difficulties, working mothers are highly motivated to continue expressing milk after returning to work: 

  • 72% of breastfeeding moms are planning to, or have already, returned to work after baby²
  • 97% of breastfeeding moms will continue feeding breast milk after they return to work³
  • 4 in 5 moms want better breastfeeding support from their employer⁴

Unfortunately, there was a time in the not-so-distant past when women had to endure pumping in bathrooms or closets, or in spaces where they could be intruded upon. Today, with recently expanded and much-needed protections (discussed in more detail below), employees are now protected under law and entitled to reasonable break times and a private lactation space to pump breast milk while working without feeling penalized for it.

What It Takes to Pump at Work

Once returning to work, a mother must express milk regularly to maintain her milk supply when away from her baby. Pumping is labor-intensive and can be stressful even under the best of circumstances.

In a typical 8-hour work day, an employee may need to pump 2 or 3 times with a double-electric breast pump for about 15-20 minutes per session. They also need time before and after pumping for set-up and clean-up activities; a typical pumping break is around 30 minutes. Many employers are investing in hospital grade (multi-user) breast pump to make breaks more efficient, potentially reducing the time of each session. These pumps can be safely and hygienically shared by design (and with FDA approval), since each user receives their own kit with all the attachments that come into contact with a body or breast milk – the only item shared by users is the pump machine itself.

What is a Lactation Room in the Workplace

According to federal law, the minimum requirement of a workplace lactation space is: “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.” This definition is broad enough that it leaves plenty of room for interpretation – which also leaves plenty of ways a well-meaning employer can get it wrong and leave themselves open to risk. 

The law also makes it clear that the designated space must be available each time the employee needs it. If you’re using a multi-purpose space, such as a ‘wellness room,’ the breastfeeding employee must be accommodated at her preferred timeslot and not redirected to an alternate space should the room be in use for another purpose.

Foremost, pumping employees deserve the dignity of a private space. Best practices dictate that it’s not a makeshift space but a specially dedicated room with a door that locks and is outfitted for a nursing parent. If the space is thrown together and clearly an afterthought, that sends mixed messages to an already self-conscious employee. Conversely, a thoughtfully created space speaks volumes about your commitment to gender equity and serves as a point of company pride.

Breastfeeding Rights at Work: New Compliance Challenges for Employers

The newly passed PUMP Act, which expands breastfeeding rights to all employees nationwide, is now in effect and enforceable. The law requires that employees be provided break times as needed, and a private, secure space (that is not a bathroom) to express milk at work for up to one year following the birth of a child. Employers need to be aware of a number of important considerations to be in compliance:

  • The law applies to employers of any size.
  • Employees will have the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division or pursue a lawsuit seeking monetary damages for violations.
  • Pumping breaks must be paid unless the employee is relieved of all duties.
  • Frequency of pumping breaks and duration of a break will vary with each individual, and may not be limited by the employer.
  • State laws that are more strict supersede any federal protections. Here’s a helpful tool from our partners at Mamava to learn more about your state.

Why Employers Need a Lactation Policy & How to Write One

A written lactation accommodation policy will clarify expectations across your organization, demonstrate legal compliance and celebrate your commitment to working families. A lack of clarity around policies can lead to employee confusion and dissatisfaction. To get started, the Office on Women’s Health offers tips on writing a policy. Key elements to address include:

  • Statement of support
  • Details about employer responsibilities
  • Description of the lactation space
  • How to use the room, and break time policies for pumping
  • How the policy will be communicated

Don’t underestimate the importance of training managers to understand and share your policy directly with pregnant employees or new parents returning to work. In a recent survey of working mothers, 38% didn’t know what breastfeeding support, if any, was offered at work.⁵

How Employers Benefit from Providing Lactation Support

Whether you’re creating a new lactation space or improving an existing one, the benefits of supporting breastfeeding parents reverberate through society and business. For a small investment, employers are rewarded with greater employee satisfaction and better retention. Voluntary employee exits, which accounted for 70% of total separations, totaled 50.6 million in 2022 – this marks the highest level since 2001.⁶ The average cost to replace an individual employee is $4,700, with many employers estimating that the total cost for a new hire is as high as 3 to 4 times the position’s salary.⁷

Here’s how supporting nursing parents helps the bottom line:

  • Boosted Employee Morale: According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 83% of both male and female employees felt more positive about a company after lactation benefits were offered.⁸
  • Improved Retention:  94% employee retention rate for employers with lactation support programs – a substantial increase from the national average of 59%.⁹
  • Reduced Absenteeism:  77% reduction in workplace absenteeism when lactation support programs are in place.¹⁰
  • Increased Productivity: 50% fewer 1-day absences for moms of breastfed babies vs. moms of formula fed babies.¹¹
  • Decreased Healthcare Costs: $17.2 billion would be saved annually in the U.S. if 90% of mothers breastfeed to 6 months.¹² On a global scale, it’s estimated that $341 billion annually is lost from unrealized benefits to health and human development due to inadequate investment in supporting breastfeeding.¹³

With proper planning, your company can avoid potential legal ramifications and instead turn lactation benefits into an asset for attracting and retaining employees who are caring for young children. Ready to get started setting up your lacation space? We've assembled this helpful guide to creating a functional and welcoming space for busy working parents. 

¹Economics of Infant Feeding in the U.S., EconoFact, 2022.
²Moms’ Thoughts on Breastfeeding Survey, Medela, October 2022.
⁴New Moms Healthy Returns Survey, Medela, March 2020.
⁵Ibid 2.
⁶Job Openings & Labor Turnover, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023.
⁷The Real Costs of Recruitment, Society for Human Resource Management, April 2022.
⁸Rocheleau et al, Promoting Worker Well-Being Through Maternal and Child Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.
⁹Ortiz et al, Duration of Breast Milk Expression Among Working Mothers Enrolled in an Employer-Sponsored Lactation Program, Pediatric Nursing, 2004.
¹⁰Bartick et al, Burden of Suboptimal Breastfeeding in the United States: A Pediatric Analysis, Pediatrics, 2015.
¹¹Comparison of Material Absenteeism and Infant Illness Rates Among Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding Women in Two Corporations, American Journal of Health Promotion, 1995.
¹²Maternal and Pediatric Health Outcomes and Costs, Maternal & Children Nutrition, 2016.
¹³Breastfeeding Series, Lancet Medical Journal, 2023.