With the passage of health care reform last year, nursing mothers in hourly positions gained the right to have reasonable break time and a sanitary place at work to pump milk for their babies. The “right to pump” provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to require employers of all sizes to provide workplace support for working mothers who choose to breastfeed.

Although the “right to pump” provision applied only to nonexempt workers, the federal government took steps to lead by example on this maternal and infant health issue on December 20, 2010 when President Obama delegated authority to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to expand the “right to pump” provision to all federal workers–exempt or nonexempt.

From John Berry’s memo:

As the Nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government strives to be a leader in the promotion of wellness programs and progressive workforce policies…In accordance with the authority delegated to OPM by the President on December 20, 2010, and in order to ensure consistent treatment of nursing mothers within the Federal workforce, agencies should also apply the requirements of subsection 7(r) of the FLSA to Executive branch civilian employees who are exempt from section 7 of the FLSA.

As Valerie Jarret, Senior Advisor to President Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, said in her blog post on the administration’s new efforts to support working mothers:

The overwhelming majority of women today choose to breastfeed their baby. Breastfeeding provides significant health benefits to children including reduced risk for sudden infant death syndrome, childhood leukemia, ear infections and childhood obesity. For mothers, breastfeeding can reduce their risk for certain cancers and diabetes. While breastfeeding is recommended for most infants, choosing to breastfeed is a personal choice and not a viable alternative for all mothers and babies.

Today, the White House Council on Women and Girls is announcing new efforts aimed at supporting women who choose to and are able to breastfeed. While 75 percent of women initially breastfeed their baby, after six months only 43 percent are still breastfeeding at all. One of the most common reasons mothers cite for discontinuing breastfeeding is returning to work and not having break time or a private space to express milk.

Although 43 percent of women still breastfeed six months after returning to work, less than 14 percent are still able to exclusively breastfeed, and a large percentage of mothers in retail or service jobs give up breastfeeding after returning to work due to a lack of proper facilities, a lack of flexible schedules and not enough support from management.

The fact that OPM has expanded the “right to pump” provision to all federal workers is significant because it demonstrates a recognition by the administration of the important health, business and management benefits of progressive practices like workplace support for nursing mothers. And, it is in line with the administration’s willingness to lead by example on important public policy issues affecting the lives of working families. Earlier in December, President Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 into law, paving the way forward for telework for federal workers.

One day after OPM’s announcement, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor issued its preliminary interpretations of the federal lactation provisions, and released a “Request for Information” from the public. The Request offers employers an opportunity to see how the Labor Department has initially interpreted the law, and to offer suggestions and feedback– those interested in submitting feedback have until February 22, 2011 to do so (find out more information on the Wage and Hour Division’s website).

Corporate Voices for Working Families believes that workplace lactation programs are good for working families, and for business– employers that support working mothers who choose to breastfeed:

  • Enjoy cost savings of $3 for every $1 invested in breastfeeding support;
  • Increase employee productivity and engagement;
  • Increase employee retention and enhance recruitment practices;
  • Reduce employee absenteeism because parents take fewer sick days. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that Home Depot realized an annual savings of $42,000 absenteeism averted by its breastfeeding support program at one store;
  • Reduce health care costs for the company (an average of $400 per baby over the first year);
  • Enjoy a family-friendly image in the community.

While workplace lactation programs offer great benefits for businesses, they also don’t cost much. As Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), author of the “right to pump” provision in the Affordable Care Act said:

This one of those investments that costs virtually nothing. It’s a cultural change that has a huge impact on the health of our children and the health of our mothers.

To help businesses comply with the new federal workplace lactation provision, Corporate Voices will soon launch an updated version of its workplace lactation toolkit. The updated toolkit will include free, high-quality and printable information in multiple languages to help employers establish successful lactation programs. Toolkit items will include:

  • Information and updates about the federal workplace lactation provision and its implementation
  • The business benefits of breastfeeding
  • A guide and checklist to set up a Privacy or Mothers’ Room
  • Needs Assessment Worksheet
  • Privacy Room Logbook
  • Resource flyers for employers, employees and health professionals
  • Break room posters
  • Breastfeeding talking points for employers
  • Measuring Success Worksheet
  • Employer Success Stories,
  • And more!

Please stay tuned for Corporate Voices’ updated workplace lactation toolkit! Although the government has taken a big step in expanding the “right to pump” provision for all federal workers, there is still much to do to raise awareness about the law and to give businesses the resources and tools they need to establish successful lactation programs. Doing so will help working families, help businesses and will strengthen our nation’s economic competitiveness.