The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act Would Ensure Equal Protections in the Workforce

“New moms returning to the workforce after childbirth should not face barriers to trying to pump at work.”

—Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.)

When breastfeeding in workplaces without accommodations, women have experienced diminished health and wage losses. Others decided to simply stop breastfeeding altogether. (Creative Commons)

On Tuesday, May 11, Rep Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), with Congressional Maternity Care Caucus co-chairs Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) and co-chairs of the Black Maternal Health Caucus Alma Adams (D-N.C.) and Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), introduced the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act, a bill ensuring protections for breastfeeding people in the workplace. The bipartisan bill closes the unintentional coverage gaps that exist in the 2010 Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act, a law that guaranteed a break time and private space for breastfeeding workers to express their breast milk at work for up to one year after giving birth.

The Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act set an important precedent for accommodating working mothers, removing barriers that forced them to choose between prioritizing their health and accepting a pay dock. Though progressive in nature, the original 2010 act only ensured protections for most hourly wage-earners and some salaried employees—excluding coverage for millions of breastfeeding employees. The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act addresses these discrepancies, extending the law to cover salaried employees including, but not limited to, teachers, nurses and farmworkers. With these new protections in place, around 9 million more lactating employees would no longer have to worry about sacrificing their time and pay for their physical and mental needs.

Congressional supporters of the bill, many of whom are mothers and grandmothers themselves, understand the difficulties that new parents face while juggling work, family and mental and emotional tolls that are exacerbated as a new parent. With this bill enacted, mothers will no longer be forced to choose between themselves, their infant’s health and their income. Rep. Maloney spoke to the dangers of restricting breastfeeding in the workplace: “Without these protections, nursing mothers face serious health consequences, including risk of painful illness and infection, diminished milk supply, or an inability to continue breastfeeding.”

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According to a study published in Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology, breastfeeding provides health benefits for not only infants, but also for mothers. Abstaining from breastfeeding has been associated with an increase in developing various types of cancers, type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, retained gestational weight gain and metabolic syndrome in adult women. For infants, not being breastfed is associated with infectious illnesses such as pneumonia, ear infections, gastroenteritis, and can increase the risk of developing childhood-onset obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, leukemia and SIDS. “Every major medical authority strongly encourages breastfeeding for at least the first year of life, as it provides significant health and nutritional benefits to both the mother and infant,” said Rep. Adams.

The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act prioritizes both the physical and economic needs that new mothers have to juggle upon returning to work.  

Over the last ten years, almost two-thirds of employees in breastfeeding legal cases lost their jobs, according to Jessica Lee, senior staff attorney at the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California’s Hastings Law School. When faced with breastfeeding in a workplace lacking accommodations, some women experienced diminished health, others experienced wage losses and some women even decided to simply stop breastfeeding altogether. Breastfeeding is a biological need and natural experience that shouldn’t be dictated by anyone but the mother herself.

Nikia Sankofa, executive director of the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, said: “Data clearly [indicates] that through early coordination and communication, the needs of lactating employees and their employers are easily anticipated and accommodated.”

The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act will alleviate the disparities that currently exist between breastfeeding employees and their coworkers, sending a clear message that the workforce will protect and support women who opt to balance a career and motherhood. More than 2 million women left the labor force in 2020 and they’ve proven slow to return—which is why making accommodations for working women, such as the PUMP Act, can go a long way toward dismantling systemic sexism in the workplace and rebuilding massive COVID-related economic setbacks.

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Nicole Cohen is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a BA in social sciences and minors in both gender & social justice and American popular culture. Her writing has appeared in Ms. Magazine and in GEN-ZiNE where she works as managing editor.