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Lactating and breastfeeding mothers face workplace discrimination

Working women have long faced discrimination related to reproduction. Employers may ask about children, pregnancy or plans to have kids in an interview (despite it being illegal). Managers may refuse to accommodate basic medical needs during pregnancy, like reduced lifting. Some businesses go out of their way to find ways to terminate a worker once they discover a pregnancy.

For many new parents, that discrimination continues beyond pregnancy. After your child is born, you will probably take unpaid leave, thanks to The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Some employers also offer paid leave or even require that you use vacation time during maternity leave.

Coming back to work isn't any easier. If you have decided to provide your baby with breastmilk via nursing or pumping, you will need accommodations at work. Many employers refuse to accommodate this basic medical need, which is a form of medical or gender discrimination.

Federal law provides for pumping or nursing breaks

Regardless of what kind of job you work, federal law requires your employer to allow breaks as necessary for breastfeeding or pumping. On-site breastfeeding is less common, unless there are daycare facilities provided by your employer or a childcare worker can bring your infant to work as necessary for feeding. Far more new mothers must pump to express breast milk.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act changed the rules in The Fair Labor Standards Act to protect lactating mothers. Specifically, your employer must provide "reasonable break time" to allow you to express milk for your nursing child for a year after your child's birth. They should also provide you with a private place that is not a bathroom where you can privately express breast milk. Other staff should not have access to this space while you are using it.

Lactation discrimination remains a serious issue

During lactation, women experience discomfort and even severe pain if they cannot alleviate the pressure resulting from breastmilk production. Failing to pump, nurse or otherwise express breastmilk will also result in a decrease in production. Adequate nursing has health benefits for both mother and infant, ranging from weight loss and bonding time for a working mother and improved gut health and immune systems in infants.

Sadly, far too many employers still refuse to accommodate a nursing or lactating employee. They may refuse to allow breaks or to provide a space. Other times, they may simply find a way to terminate your position. If you have experienced discrimination or harassment at work as a result of your decision to provide your child with breast milk, you may need to take legal action to enforce your rights or obtain compensation.

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