As many new parents know, having to pump breast milk for a newborn can be incredibly taxing — and more so when you have to pump at work. Luckily, lawmakers have been working for years to try and improve conditions for pumping parents via something called the PUMP Act, or "Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act." And this week, the PUMP Act’s expanded enforcement provision will go into effect. But what exactly is the PUMP Act, and how will it affect parents and employers?
What is the PUMP Act?
“The PUMP Act guarantees most workers in the United States the right to break time and a lactation space that is not a bathroom, is shielded from view and free from intrusion to pump milk at work,” says Sheila Dukas-Janakos, a lactation consultant and founder of Healthy Horizons. “It provides the right to millions more workers including nurses and teachers who had not been covered in past laws.”
If employers are not yet complying with the law, Dukas-Janakos says they'll have 10 calendar days to do so. The new law also allows workers to file a lawsuit if their employee still refuses.
“It is important to note that many states [already] have workplace lactation laws with more protections than the PUMP Act and they must be followed,” says Dukas-Janakos. For example, in California, pumping parents not only have the right to pump at work, they also need to have somewhere to sit, a surface on which to place their pump and access to electrical outlets, running water and a refrigerator in which to store their milk.
The PUMP Act will be felt most in states that were lacking in such laws and ordinances, like Alabama, which did not have any local laws protecting working parents who need to pump breast milk and only had to comply with previous federal laws that were still lacking.
“The PUMP Act was created to amend and expand on the legislation in the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act that was passed in 2010 with the Affordable Care Act,” adds Angela Lang, a director of clinical education and professional engagement for the breast pump brand Medela. She says the new law will impact and protect employees who were previously excluded from the 2010 law, including “nurses, teachers, agriculture workers and other salaried and professional employees.”
Who won’t be covered?
While the PUMP Act expands access to private pumping facilities for most, not everyone will be covered.
“If a company has less than 50 employees, they may be excused in a particular situation where providing break time or lactation space would create an undue hardship,” says Dukas-Janakos. But she says this exception is rare and in most cases pumping employees should be accommodated.
According to Lang, individuals who are independent contractors or self-employed (and thus not covered by federal labor laws), as well as airline crewmembers (including flight attendants and pilots) are also among those excluded from the PUMP Act.
She notes that there are also some other employees who are protected, but not just yet.
“There is a three-year delay for the protections to extend to certain railway and motorcoach employees, who become protected by the law in December 2025,” says Lang.
Who advocated for it to pass?
Lang says the PUMP Act is the first breastfeeding bill to receive bipartisan support and a recorded vote on the House and Senate floors.
“Over 230 organizations advocated and signed on to pass the PUMP,” adds Andrea Ippolito, a health tech policy expert and CEO and founder of SimpliFed, a telehealth platform dedicated to helping new parents navigate baby feeding in the first few weeks and months of parenthood. These organizations, she says, include the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Nursing and American Academy of Pediatrics.
There was also pressure to pass better legislation for pumping parents due to previous lawsuits. Ippolito says one lawsuit in Delaware came about when a KFC franchise employee was not given space or time to pump, ultimately resulting in her demotion.
“She ended up winning the court case due to the gender discrimination and hostile work environment she faced, which was a violation under Title VII,” says Ippolito.
Why is this issue so important?
“It is essential for a [parent] to consistently and routinely pump milk in order to provide an adequate milk supply for their infant,” says Dr. Jenelle Ferry, a neonatologist and director of feeding, nutrition and infant development at Pediatrix Neonatology of Florida. The "most detrimental impact," she notes, is not having a large enough milk supply to feed a baby.
Ferry says pumping frequency changes with a baby’s age (roughly every three hours in the first few months, to every 4-6 hours once the child reaches about 6 months and begins solid foods. An ability to pump at the necessarily intervals can also cause discomfort and pain “resulting from engorgement, leading to blocked ducts, embarrassing leakage and potentially infection,” such as mastitis.
Why some moms says it's long overdue
The PUMP Act comes after countless parents have faced obstacles, discrimination and more in their need to pump at work.
Leslie Holland, a researcher at a hospital in Washington, DC., has been pumping since she gave birth to her son in March of 2022.
“While my supervisor has been very helpful and supportive in providing me with a space to pump daily, I have faced several challenges at the hospital where I work,” says Holland. For one, after submitting proper documentation, she had difficulty getting in contact with the person responsible for granting access to the lactation room. It took them a month to finally grant her access.
“In the meantime, I had no choice but to pump in my office bathroom three times a day,” says Holland.
Once she did gain access, she found out the room was also being used as a hangout and lunch break area for nurses.
“After about three months of pumping in this room, I decided to get a manual pump and pump discreetly at my desk,” says Holland.
Dr. Sharifa N. Glass, owner of The Vine Pediatrics and Lactation, says she was working in urgent care after having her first child, and in an emergency care center for her second child.
“As a physician in these work settings, it is normal to not have a protected lunch break scheduled within the shift,” she says. She had spoken with her supervisor prior to going on maternity leave to explain she would need a certain amount of protected time to pump during her shift. While she was allowed to make her own pumping schedule, and use an empty office or patient room, it wasn't always smooth sailing.
“The resistance came in the form of exasperation when I informed the staff that I was taking a pump break, being asked to see patients while I was pumping or a male medical assistant walking into the closed-door private room that I was in,” she says.
Ippolito says that she, too, has had some negative experiences while pumping at work. While she mainly worked remote, she still needed to go into the office once a week, and because the office was in the process of moving, she had to go to a different building in order to get to the nearest pumping room.
“I had to advocate for myself to be given office space in our building. It’s hard to stand up for yourself sometimes at work when by law, I shouldn’t even have to ask for this space,” says Ippolito. “I was lucky that they provided me with a space but most people are not that lucky. This is one of the reasons why women (who want to work!) will leave the workforce contributing to ‘the maternal wall,’ which is so limiting to women in the workforce and truly our economy at large.”
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