Many women pursuing a professional career already know that their right to work has special protections in place during their pregnancy and after childbirth. Employers should allow a worker to change responsibilities while pregnant and to take adequate time off after the birth of a child to facilitate bonding and medical recovery.
Fewer women realize that lactating mothers also have special protections under the law. If you have chosen to breastfeed your child or pump breast milk to provide to your child in a bottle, that is also a protected medical condition in the United States.
According to most medical professionals, breastfeeding is optimal for child development, maternal-infant bonding and maternal recovery from pregnancy. Benefits range from better neurological development to improved immune defenses against bacteria and viruses the mother has already encountered.
Some mothers choose to breastfeed because of these benefits. Others breastfeed because it helps them lose pregnancy weight faster and allows them critical time to bond with their new baby. Regardless of why you have chosen to breastfeed, you should know that you have protections in place when the time comes to return to your job. Your employer should accommodate basic needs related to breastfeeding your new baby for at least the first year of his or her life.
Lactation, or the production of breast-milk, is a medical condition that results from pregnancy and childbirth. While women who do not nurse may experience a quick end to their period of lactation, mothers who nurse their children may continue lactating for several years.
Just because you are producing breast milk does not mean you can’t return to work. Your employer should provide you with a private space, other than a bathroom, in which to express milk, pump milk or nurse your baby.
Generally speaking, your employer should also provide you with regular breaks during which you can perform these activities. These breaks maybe unpaid, and your employer can require that they overlap with existing break times, such as your lunch.
In most cases, your employer cannot refuse to accommodate your lactation. If your employer will not provide you with a private space, will not allow adequate brakes or simply refuses to allow you to return to work after the birth of your child, that is a form of discrimination.
Fighting back against this discrimination is critical not only for your well-being, but also for the rights of all new parents and women. If your employer refuses to accommodate the very simple needs presented by breastfeeding your child, you may need to take legal steps to stand up for your rights.