National Women's Political Caucus of Washington

Bill Highlight #3: Providing reasonable accommodation for the expression of breast milk in the workplace

According to the CDC, “In the United States, more than 8 in 10 mothers begin breastfeeding their babies at birth – but many stop earlier than is recommended.” One contributing factor to this may be the work environment women return to after giving birth.

“Employed mothers typically find that returning to work is a significant barrier to breastfeeding. Women often face inflexibility in their work hours and locations and a lack of privacy for breastfeeding or expressing milk, and have no place to store expressed breast milk.”

Breastfeeding is extremely important for infant health and wellness because breast milk is the perfect food for babies. It protects against a variety of diseases and conditions, it adjusts to the baby’s growing needs, and it is easier for babies to digest than formula. It’s recommended that infants be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months and then for a year or longer while introducing new foods. Since most maternal leave is shorter than this, it’s fair to say that nursing mothers are returning to work needing support systems in place for expressing breast milk.

There is precedent though, because federal law concerning breast milk expression exists. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to provide reasonable break time for nursing mothers for up to one year following the birth of a child. They are also required to provide a space for nursing mothers to express breast milk and that space can’t be a bathroom. However, the law does not apply to all employers or employees.

Lawmakers in Washington state this year are backing legislation that closes that gap. Representative Doglio introduced legislation this session, HB 1930, “providing reasonable accommodation for the expression of breast milk in the workplace,” which would require employers to provide break time and accommodations for nursing mothers for up to two years following a birth, and it would also require that if the business does not have reasonable accommodations in place that the employer work with the employee to find a location and work schedule that best supports their needs.

Supporting nursing mothers is an important part of supporting women in the workplace and we are happy to see legislators backing this bill.

Interested in tracking this legislation?

Click here to follow the progress of the bill.

Click here to find your state legislators to contact them in support of this bill.

This is the third in a series of blog posts, highlighting bills proposed in the Washington state legislature this year that impact women. Click through to read about other bills in the legislature, including:

Providing a sales and use tax exemption for feminine hygiene products

Increasing women’s representation on boards in Washington state

Hannah Febach is a volunteer, communications specialist for NWPC-WA.

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