- The responsibility still falls on working mothers who are nursing to advocate for workplace lactation resources, say researchers. A University of Georgia study published in Workplace Health & Safety in January examined qualitative and quantitative data from working mothers via an online, cross-sectional survey.
- The majority of women surveyed (78%) said that they had access to private spaces for breastfeeding, and more than half (65.4%) reported access to break times. However, "fewer participants reported access to breast pumps, lactation consultants, and support groups," researchers said. Many respondents said there was also a lack of communication.
- "Designate a person who is responsible for making sure that women who are preparing for the birth of their baby understand what resources they have available to them when they return to work," Heather Padilla, an assistant professor at UGA's College of Public Health and study co-author said in a statement. This could be a supervisor, an HR director or a mentor, Padilla added. Researchers suggested in the study that occupational health nurses can help employers provide lactation resources.
A decade ago, "Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers" was added to section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requiring employers to provide reasonable break time and a private place for non-exempt employees to express breast milk during the work day.
However, a report published by Pregnant at Work, a Center for WorkLife Law initiative last year revealed that 27.6 million women workers of childbearing age the U.S. are left without the basic protections needed by all breastfeeding workers. And, recently, there have been several lawsuits filed against employers alleging noncompliance.
In December 2019, for example, a group of plaintiffs sued New York City, claiming the New York Police Department engaged in a pattern and practice of refusing to provide nursing mothers with reasonable accommodations such as return-to-work or modified assignments, or the proper time and space to express milk. Since 2007, the workers said, employees have had to express milk in front of other male and female colleagues, and in locations including locker rooms and bathrooms, leading some to stop pumping while at work.
That same month, four female pilots and four female flight attendants for Frontier Airlines filed lawsuits against the company, alleging breastfeeding and pregnancy bias. The pilots claimed that Frontier refused to accommodate on-duty breastfeeding-related needs, resulting in painful engorgement, infections and more.
Research shows racial disparities may be at play, too. An August 2019 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that black women, more than other racial or ethnic groups, face barriers to breastfeeding at work.
"Returning to work is another major barrier to breastfeeding initiation and continuation, particularly for black women," according to the CDC. "Black women, especially those with a low income, return to work earlier than do women in other racial/ethnic groups and are more likely to experience challenges to breastfeeding or expressing milk, including inflexible work hours."
CDC said policies that support paid leave after giving birth, along with flexible work schedules, and support for expressing milk and breastfeeding at work, "might help improve breastfeeding intention, initiation, and duration."