Your Rights as a Nursing Parent in the Workplace
More than 83 percent of parents initiate breastfeeding, but less than 25 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed at the CDC-recommended six-month mark. While you may choose to stop breastfeeding early for many reasons (and that’s okay!), you shouldn’t be forced to stop due to a lack of systemic support—particularly when returning to the workplace.
How quickly you return to work can range from months to just days after giving birth. And if you choose to breastfeed, workplace lactation protections are critical for continuing to feed your baby after you return.
“For many people, if they didn’t have legal protections affording them the time and a place to pump, this transition back to work would mark the end of their breastfeeding journey,” explains TLN IBCLC Chrisie Rosenthal. “Federal and state laws protect a breastfeeding person’s right to take regular pumping breaks at work and ensure that they have an accessible and appropriate place to pump.”
As a nursing parent, it’s important to know your rights in the workplace. Here are the laws that protect those rights.
Break Time for Nursing Mother
Break Time for Nursing Mothers is a federal law that amended the Fair Labor Standards Act and passed as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. It requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for one year after the child’s birth. It also gives employees the right to a private place to pump at work, other than a bathroom.
Though this was an important step in breastfeeding rights in the workplace, it only applies to some hourly wage-earning and salaried employees (nonexempt workers), leaving many without protection. Nearly one in four women of childbearing age are not covered by the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law. But more recent amendments grant workplace lactation rights to more employees.
The PUMP Act
The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, or PUMP Act, aimed to improve the protections of the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law. It received bipartisan support, demonstrating new recognition of the importance of systemic breastfeeding care and protections.
Passed in December 2022, the PUMP Act expands the breastfeeding rights provided by the Affordable Care Act. It protects salaried employees and others previously not covered by the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law. This includes millions more workers, including teachers, nurses, farmworkers, and more. As of December 29, 2025, it also protects employees of rail carriers and motorcoach service operators. Unfortunately, due to industry opposition, flight attendants and pilots are still not covered.
In addition, The PUMP Act extends the timeframe for these accommodations from just one year after the baby’s birth to two years. Time spent pumping equates to hours worked if an employee is not completely relieved from duty. The law’s expanded enforcement provisions also give employees the right to file a lawsuit if their employer fails to comply with the law, effective April 28, 2023.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) closed a gap in federal law that previously left pregnant and postpartum workers without help if they needed accommodations. The PWFA requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations for medical conditions and limitations related to pregnancy and childbirth. This includes everything from taking leave or time off after childbirth to receiving additional break time in order to use the bathroom, eat, rest, and pump. You do not need to have a pregnancy-related disability in order to receive accommodation.
‘Covered employers’ include private and public sector employers with at least 15 employees, Congress, federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations.
“In addition to federal protections, many states also have state-level protections in place,” says Rosenthal. “Your local city or state breastfeeding coalition or task force may have information for your local area. Often you can find those resources on their website or by reaching out to them.”
While these laws are important to building a world with better breastfeeding support, you still have to advocate for yourself–and be prepared to have direct conversations with your employer about the time and space you need to pump. Going back to your job shouldn’t mean your breastfeeding journey has to end. Know your rights and prepare for your return to work in advance by talking to your employer. They may offer breastfeeding support, such as an employee lactation program (like TLN’s Newborn Families program).
If you run into trouble when you return to work, don’t be afraid to speak up. You can also reach out to the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division by filing a complaint here.