Did you know that August is National Breastfeeding Month? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes several ways in which breastfeeding may contribute to a more productive workforce:

  • Breast milk protects babies from illness, so nursing mothers miss less work to care for sick infants.
  • Breast-fed infants typically need fewer sick care doctor visits, prescriptions and hospitalizations, so medical care costs may be lower.
  • Breastfeeding is also linked to a lower risk of certain health problems in women, including Type 2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers and postpartum depression, which may result in lower absenteeism and reduced medical care costs for the mother as well.Nursing Mothers

If your workforce includes nursing mothers, you'll want to be familiar with the requirements below. 

Heath Care Reform

For plan years starting on or after August 1, 2012, the Affordable Care Act requires most health plans to cover eight new preventive services for women—including breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling—with no cost-sharing. Note that group health plans that have maintained grandfathered status are not required to cover these services.

Mandatory Break Time for Nursing Mothers

Additionally, the Affordable Care Act's amendments to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) may require you to provide break time for employees who are nursing so they can express their milk. We've summarized the basic provisions of the law below; additional guidance is available from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).


  • Employers are required to provide reasonable break times for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth each time the employee has need to express milk. The frequency of breaks needed to express milk as well as the duration of each break will likely vary.
  • All employers covered by the FLSA must comply with the break time requirement for nursing mothers. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to the requirement if compliance would impose an undue hardship, taking into account factors such as the difficulty or expense in comparison to employer size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of the employer's business.
  • Only employees who are not exempt from the FLSA's overtime pay requirements are entitled to breaks to express milk, though employers may be obligated to provide such breaks to exempt employees under state law. (Note that the DOL encourages employers to provide breaks to all nursing mothers regardless of their status under the FLSA.)
  • Employers are also required 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. A space temporarily created or converted into a space for expressing milk or made available when needed by the nursing mother is sufficient provided that the space is shielded from view, and free from any intrusion from coworkers and the public.
  • Employers are not required under the FLSA to compensate nursing mothers for breaks taken for the purpose of expressing milk. However, where employers already provide compensated breaks, an employee who uses that break time to express milk must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time. In addition, the employee must be completely relieved from duty or else the time must be compensated as work time.


Important Note: The FLSA requirement of break time for nursing mothers does not preempt state laws that provide greater protections to employees (for example, providing compensated break time, providing break time for exempt employees, or providing break time beyond one year after the child’s birth). The National Conference of State Legislatures offers a summary of each state's laws regarding breastfeeding breaks.


For More Information

The DOL offers a number of resources for employers who are required to offer breastfeeding breaks, including the Wage and Hour Division's Request for Information on Break Time for Nursing Mothers, which provides information for employers to consider in establishing policies for nursing employees. Our section on the Fair Labor Standards Act offers guidance on other key requirements of this important federal law. 


If you haven't done so, why not download our free 2012 HR & Benefits Compliance Quick-Check? It's a great resource for staying on top of your company's compliance with important HR and benefits-related laws. 


Image Credit: Daquella manera



Topics: Employee Benefits, Employee Health and Wellness, Health Care Reform

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