Legal Rights for the Breastfeeding Mother

When it comes to breastfeeding, it’s important to know your rights. Lactation expert Rebecca Agi discusses.

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Each woman has her own unique experience when it comes to breastfeeding. Some women have the flexibility of maternity leave and are able to breastfeed exclusively for several months. Others have to return to work days after giving birth and need to pump on the job to provide their tot with breastmilk. Some women are comfortable nursing in public; others prefer doing so in private. Regardless of your employment situation and your nursing preferences, it’s important to know your rights as a nursing mother. Below, we’ve listed the most relevant breastfeeding laws on the books in the United States so that you know where, when and how you’re protected.

Public Breastfeeding Law

The federal public breastfeeding law is actually quite limited. It allows a woman to breastfeed her child on any federal property to which the woman has legal access. For example, if a nursing mother went to a post office to ship a package, she could breastfeed her baby while she was there and be protected by the law. In order to breastfeed in any other place not owned by the federal government, state and local laws protect a mother’s rights.

State Breastfeeding Laws

Forty-nine states (all except Idaho), the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have laws that allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. In general, these state laws, which vary slightly in their provisions, allow mothers to breastfeed in public. California for example, allows a mother to breastfeed in any location, public or private, except the private home of another person. Be sure to look up your state’s breastfeeding laws.

Workplace Pumping Law

Going back to work while breastfeeding is not easy, but thanks to the federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law, things have gotten a little bit easier.

In 2010 the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) was signed into law. The new law offers protection for mothers who continue breastfeeding after returning to the workplace and requires employers to provide breastfeeding mothers (1) reasonable break time to express milk and (2) a private, non-bathroom space to express milk during the workday through the baby’s first year. However, the law applies only to companies with 50 or more employees and the employer is not required to provide compensation for these breaks.

Employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the provisions; however, mothers who work at small companies are still encouraged to speak with their supervisors to find out if they can be accommodated. Breastfeeding is a win for employers, mothers, and babies since breastfeeding results in fewer sick days, healthier babies and lower healthcare costs, so never be afraid to ask!

Insurance Coverage for Breastfeeding Supplies

The Affordable Care Act also requires new private health insurance plans to cover the cost of a breast pump. The pump may be either a rental or a purchase. Your plan may have guidelines on whether the covered pump is manual or electric, how long you’ll be able to rent it, and when you’ll receive it (before or after birth). Check with your insurance company to find out what your plan covers.

Breastfeeding and Jury Duty

What if you get called for jury duty while you’re nursing? Luckily, 17 states (California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia) excuse breastfeeding mothers from jury duty and allow jury service to be postponed for up to one year. As long as you are still nursing, you may renew that request and as long as it’s in writing, the jury commissioner must grant it without requiring you to appear at court.

Knowing your legal rights as a breastfeeding mother and employee is so important and familiarizing yourself with your state’s laws is the best way to know exactly where and when you’re protected.