Nursing Mothers Get A Break

If you went back to work shortly after your child was born and tried expressing breast milk at the office, you know it can be a struggle.

The only place to pump at one of my earliest employers was the bathroom. I heard numerous complaints from employees who would generally be interrupted by curious co-workers 2-3 times while they were pumping.

In my own experience, I started a new job the same day I went back to work after having a baby. So, one of my first conversations with my boss had to be a request for a lock to be installed on my door or a private area where I could pump. Not exactly the conversation you want to have on your first day of work.

Lately, government regulations have been providing more support for employees who are breastfeeding.

Is your office up-to-date? Here’s a rundown of some of the latest changes:

Breast Pumps Qualify as Tax Deductible Expense. On February 10, the IRS reversed a long-held position, and now are allowing breast pumps and other lactation supplies as tax deductible medical expenses. This means that families can use pre-tax funds from their flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts for these supplies. This can be especially welcome during the first year of a baby’s life when families are also facing childbirth expenses.

The new rule takes effect for 2010 tax filings due April 18. If your company offers Flexible Spending Accounts or Health Savings Accounts, make sure your employees are aware of these new deductions so they can take advantage of pre-tax savings.

Nursing Mothers Get a Break. Thanks to an amendment to the FLSA included in Health Care reform, employers must now provide “reasonable” unpaid breaks to nursing mothers in the first year after birth to express milk for their infants. Breastfeeding experts say this generally translates to a half hour of time for every four hours worked. The health care law adds a new provision to the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. §207(r)(1), which allows nursing mothers to take a break every time they need to express breast milk and requires employers to provide a private location, other than a bathroom, where such employees may express milk.

Employers of fewer than 50 employees are exempt if the breastfeeding requirements would “impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense.” You can read more on the U.S. Department of Labor Website, Fact Sheet #73: Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA

The new legislation only covers women who are paid hourly, not a salary, although some state laws cover both. If you work in a state that is more favorable to the employee than the federal law, you’ll need to follow your own state’s rule. Here’s a link to all the state breastfeeding rules.

White House Support for Nursing Mothers. Recently, Michelle Obama announced her support for breastfeeding as part of her “Let’s Move” anti-childhood obesity campaign. And, in the child nutrition bill President Obama signed Dec. 13, the WIC program for low-income women provides more breastfeeding counseling and supplies to eligible mothers.

Many women say flexible workplaces and a private place to pump were a major factor in their decision to continue (or discontinue) breastfeeding.

What is your office doing to give nursing mothers a break?

Photo credit iStockphoto

About the Author

Andrea Ballard

For 15+ years, Andrea Ballard, SPHR, has brought a unique, common sense perspective to the business of HR. A former HR Director and Training Manager, she advises companies on how to design/implement flexible work life programs to attract/retain top talent. A certified coach, she helps women create a balance between motherhood & career. She is the owner of Expecting Change, LLC, blogs at Working Mother and is on Twitter as @andreaballard.

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