Breast milk has a number of positive effects on the health of both moms and their babies.
Despite the positive effects, the rate of American mothers who solely breastfeed for six months is very low. Only 46 percent of moms exclusively breastfeed after birth, and only 17 percent of infants are fed nothing but breast milk for six months. Rates of both beginning and continuing breastfeeding are lower for women of color than for white women. In addition, rates for lower income women are lower than those for higher income women. At least some of this disparity is due to work environments that don't support breastfeeding moms pumping at work.
A recent academic article estimates that increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding among American mothers to 90 percent would save over 900 lives and 13 billion dollars per year. Evidence also suggests that since breastfed babies are healthier than those who aren’t breastfed, moms who breastfeed miss less work than those who don’t breastfeed. Medical experts and organizations ranging from the American Academy of Family Physicians to the World Health Organization recommend that most infants under six months old be fed nothing but breast milk.
A section of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) attempts to address low exclusive breastfeeding rates by making it easier for breastfeeding moms to pump at work. The section requires some employers to provide “reasonable break time” and a suitable location for nursing mothers to pump at work. This location can't be a bathroom and must be private. This section of the ACA, which applies to most non-salaried, non-agricultural employees, became effective in March 2010 when the ACA was signed.
Working moms can learn more about their rights with this FAQ. If the required time and space to pump breast milk is not being provided, workers can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Read this fact sheet for more information on the ACA and nursing mothers.
This information was developed by Corey Davis, staff attorney, for the Network for Public Health Law – Southeastern Region at National Health Law Program and Jina Dhillon, staff attorney at National Health Law Program.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.