Article

5 Facts About the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act

The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act provides critical protections for women who choose to breastfeed in the workplace and expands protections in the 2010 Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act.

Photo shows a woman bottle-feeding her baby in a baby carrier on the table.
A mother feeds her 4-month-old baby in New Caney, Texas, December 2022. (Getty/Callaghan OHare for The Washington Post)

Breastfeeding is extremely common in the United States, with more than 83 percent of infants born in 2019 receiving breastfeeding at some point. Yet as breastfeeding mothers return to work, millions of them have been left without break time or space to pump at work, which can lead to serious economic and mental health consequences.

In recognition of this problem, on December 29, 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law the bipartisan Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act as part of the omnibus budget bill for fiscal year 2023. First introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the PUMP Act represents a major step forward in protecting nursing mothers who want to breastfeed in the workplace.

The PUMP Act builds on the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act (the break time law), passed in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The PUMP Act amends and expands that legislation to provide workplace protections to nearly 9 million additional breastfeeding employees who were not previously covered under the ACA and makes available enforcement mechanisms that were not included in the 2010 law.

This column details five facts about the PUMP Act.

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1. The PUMP Act will expand critical workplace protections to millions of nursing mothers nationwide 

The PUMP Act is an expansion of the 2010 break time law, which provides key workplace protections for nursing mothers, including reasonable break time to nurse and a private place to pump. Importantly, its passage marked the first time that federal law entitled workers to break time and space for pumping.

More specifically, the law requires employers to provide “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 law, employers must also provide “reasonable break time” for their employees to pump for up to one year after the birth of their child.

However, due to an unintended legal technicality whereby the break time law was placed in the provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act that sets overtime, workers who were not entitled to overtime pay were also excluded from the break time law’s breastfeeding protections.

Because of this placement, the break time law failed to cover approximately 1 in 4 working women of childbearing age—or nearly 9 million working women. According to the Economic Policy Institute, this includes “more than 1 million black women, 976,000 Hispanic women, 825,000 Asian women, more than 6 million white women, and 185,000 women of other races.”

The PUMP Act expands breastfeeding protections to nearly 9 million additional women across race/ethnicity

1M

Number of Black women who will gain protections

976K

Number of Hispanic women who will gain protections

825K

Number of Asian women who will gain protections

+6M

Number of white women who will gain protections

These women fall into several job categories, including teachers, registered nurses and nurse practitioners, transportation workers, agricultural workers, computer programmers, software engineers, retail workers, and traveling salespeople, as well as some doctors, lawyers, journalists, photographers, and musicians, depending on their specific job duties and salaries.

Under the PUMP Act, these women will now be entitled to the protections set forth in the 2010 break time law, including break time to nurse and a private place to pump.

2. The PUMP Act makes available enforcement provisions to fight violations of the law

Importantly, the PUMP Act grants employees access to legal recourse options available to address other violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, should their employers disregard the requirements of the law.

More specifically, if an employer has violated the break time requirement or has indicated that they have no intention of providing private space to pump, employees are able to file a lawsuit immediately. The same is true if an employee has been fired for requesting break time or space to pump. If an employer has not provided adequate space to pump, employees must notify their employer, and the employer then has 10 days to comply.

These new enforcement provisions are particularly important given that 60 percent of women have reported that their employers did not provide access to break time and space to pump or nurse after the break time law went into effect.

3. The PUMP Act’s breastfeeding protections will improve economic conditions for nursing mothers 

For those who choose to breastfeed, a lack of breastfeeding protections has a detrimental effect on their economic conditions due to continued discrimination. For example, according to a data set of recent breastfeeding discrimination cases collected by the Center for WorkLife Law—including lawsuits filed in federal and state courts and complaints filed with administrative agencies—74 percent of cases involved claims of economic harm, and 63 percent of cases resulted in job loss through firing or resignation. With the PUMP Act’s protections signed into law, these conditions are expected to improve for breastfeeding workers.

According to a data set of recent breastfeeding discrimination cases … 74 percent of cases involved claims of economic harm, and 63 percent of cases resulted in job loss through firing or resignation.

Similarly, the lack of breastfeeding protections has led to sexual harassment in the workplace, which in turns undermines women’s economic security. For example, a mother from Rhode Island who was pumping in the workplace was forced to listen to male co-workers make inappropriate comments about her breasts through thin walls. In addition, a television network coordinator who sought to breastfeed in the workplace was forced to endure a physical demonstration of breastfeeding by her co-worker, in which her co-worker simulated grabbing and squeezing and then tried to put her head on the woman’s chest.

Sexual harassment in the workplace has devastating effects on women’s economic conditions: Research shows that women who experience workplace sexual harassment may be more likely to experience financial stress, report lower job satisfaction, and have higher turnover intentions and actual quit rates than women who don’t experience sexual harassment.

4. Passage of the PUMP Act will lead to improved outcomes in maternal mental health

In addition to improved economic conditions, the PUMP Act will also contribute to positive maternal mental health outcomes. Both research and anecdotal evidence show that breastfeeding discrimination and the lack of protections in the workplace negatively affect maternal mental health. For example, in a 2014 federal court case, a construction worker in New York was forced by her employer to pump in a “make-shift bathroom” while her co-worker served as a “look-out.” This situation was so stressful that she decided to stop breastfeeding her child earlier than she had initially planned. And more generally, a recent study indicated that rooms to support breastfeeding improve emotional well-being.

Unfortunately, breastfeeding women who experience stress are more likely to suffer from breastfeeding-related infections, including mastitis. In turn, while more research is needed on this subject, some studies have indicated that those who suffer from breast diseases during lactation may experience higher levels of psychological stress.

5. Additional work remains before the PUMP Act can be fully implemented 

The PUMP Act went into effect on the day it was signed into law in December, which means there was no delay in providing break time and space to the 9 million working women who were previously excluded from the break time law.

However, the enforcement provision, which allows employees to sue over a violation of the law, is subject to a delay of 120 days and thus will not go into effect until April 28, 2023. The final version of the bill also includes a delay of three years to implement protections for rail workers and motorcoach service operators

The PUMP Act requires the U.S. Department of Labor to issue guidance on employer compliance after 60 days of enactment, which would be February 27, 2023. In enacting this guidance, it is important that the Biden administration make employees and employers aware of these new protections. The administration could also provide examples of proper compliance across various industries.

In the future and to the extent possible, the administration should also monitor trends in enforcement and provide oversight to ensure that the PUMP Act is being properly implemented. 

Conclusion

Protections for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace is one important way to ensure that working women have the resources they need to succeed. This is especially important given that the United States’ lack of a national paid family and medical leave law deprives many workers of the time at home with a new baby—time needed to establish and support breastfeeding if they choose. In order for women to reach full equality in the workplace, we must guarantee robust protections for those who choose to have children.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Author

Becca Damante

Former Senior Policy Analyst

Team

Women’s Initiative

The Women’s Initiative develops robust, progressive policies and solutions to ensure all women can participate in the economy and live healthy, productive lives.

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