Mothers will no longer have to hide their babies’ heads beneath blankets in fear of exposing their breast now that the Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide time and space for breastfeeding mothers. With more mothers heading back to the workplace after they give birth and an increase of those deciding to breastfeed their babies, the law comes as a safehaven for many.
“This is a terrific opportunity to show businesses that lactation is important and that women should be accorded the right to provide milk for their babies,” Dr. Richard J. Schanler, director of neonatal services at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, told Reuters Health. “Most women go back to work and one of the problems women face is how are they going to provide milk for their babies, that tends to be a stumbling block.” The law has been “sort of on the books for a while,” Schanler said, but the ACA provision makes the rule concrete.
Employers have to give a breastfeeding mother a reasonable amount of time and a clean, private space for them to provide the milk their baby needs. It's been required since the law was signed into effect on March 23, 2010. A mother who is experienced with lactation needs an average of 15 minutes to pump breast milk and may need three separate sessions broken up into midmorning, lunch, and mid-afternoon to step away from their desk into their rightfully allocated space to pump.
“It should be a room, a separate quiet place, not a bathroom, and let the mother express her milk and have a place to store it,” Shanler said. He also added that the amount of time each woman needs will vary greatly. “Worker retention rates seem to be greater when they allow this to happen rather than not being very supportive of the women.”
Under the law, companies that compensate their employees for break times are required to give mothers their time to pump breast milk and compensate them for it. Small businesses, which are those with less than 50 employees, may be exempt from the law if it causes difficult expense for the employer. However, it can cause difficult situations for women trying to return to work after giving birth. According to the Pew Research Center, 71 percent of all mothers are in the workplace outside of their home, which means a large majority of women may need a place to breastfeed.
“It must be emphasized that breastfeeding should not be conceived as a life style choice of the mother but rather as a basic and priority health decision that each mother must make and thus it is critical to create a supportive environment for this decision process,” Arthur I. Eidelman, past president of The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and current professor emeritus of pediatrics at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem told Reuters Health by email.
Women who work in a place that doesn’t provide a “lactation area” or clean and private place for them to breastfeed from, should feel free to contact the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division by phone or through letter or email. With according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Breastfeeding Report Card for infants in 2013, there are 77 percent of American infants who begin breastfeeding, which is an increase from the 49 percent in 2010.
“I’ve had women truck drivers continue to lactate and use pumps while they drive, just pulling over to the side of the road,” Schanler said. “It can be done if you plan and think about it ahead of time.”