By Melanie Sanders
Going back to work after having a baby can be stressful enough; but for some mothers, finding a place to nurse can also be a hardship.
Part of President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes requiring employers to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”
The Act also requires “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”
Employers, however, are not required to “compensate nursing mothers for breaks taken for the purpose of expressing milk,” except for already compensated breaks.
The Act was signed into law in March 2010, but not everyone is complying.
Although final rules regarding the law have not been finalized, already 23 companies have been cited by the agency, according to Sonia Melendez, a spokeswoman for the Labor Department.
“The department intends to continue enforcing the law based on the statutory language,” she said. “Until the department issues final guidance, the request for information provides useful information for employers to consider in establishing policies for nursing employees.”
Nicola Singletary, a new mom, breast feeds her 4-month-old baby. She says the thought of telling a new, potential employer of her needs terrified her.
“I like this job,” Singletary said. “But while I am asking for this job, can we find a way to make this schedule work around pumping?”
She added, “For me and my milk supply, I have to pump relatively frequently.”
A teacher, Singletary chose not to say anything, and paid the physical and emotional price. She chose to pump in her car, fitting it around class schedules.
“You don't just stop breastfeeding, and then breast feed 12 hours later,” Dr. Miriam Labbok with UNC's School of Public Health explained. “The body doesn't work that way. If you stop breastfeeding during the work day, your milk will begin to disappear.”
Widespread research shows the medical benefits of breastfeeding for babies and their mothers. And now it's the law for the workplace to support that.
The U.S. Department of Labor is cracking down on businesses that are creating that challenge for working moms. The law requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide a private room, and enough time for breastfeeding moms to pump.
If employers choose to sit on the sidelines and wait for the final rules, they may be faced with a fine or be forced to make breast-feeding accommodations.
The Department of Labor would not provide a time frame on when the final rules regarding the law may be introduced.