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New mothers who nurse or pump have legal protections at work

Bringing a new life into the world and into your family is an amazing experience. Many women like to have it all, including a family and a career. Thanks to laws that prevent employer discrimination, more women than ever before can enjoy professional success while also embracing motherhood. Sadly, despite legal protections at the federal and California state level, many women workers still deal with discrimination and harassment related to motherhood.

Women may have to deal with employers who refuse disability leave or who try to fire a new mother when she returns to work. One form of discrimination that remains common is employers who refuse to support or accommodate a new mother who is nursing her infant. Fewer women realize that they have rights that protect their ability to nurse or pump for the new child, so employers may try to take advantage of that knowledge gap.

Lactating mothers need regular breaks

Producing breast milk is a major job for your body. During lactation, women often find they need more calories than they otherwise would. They also have more restrictions on their time. In order to ensure a ready supply of breast milk, mothers need to nurse or pump every few hours. For some women, pumping is necessary every two hours to maintain adequate supply.

Beyond ensuring that there's enough milk to keep the baby nourished, regular pumping or nursing is necessary for the health and comfort of the mother. As milk supply builds up, it results in painful pressure on the breasts. In some cases, women unable to nurse or pump can find themselves leaking breast milk, which is a major hassle while working. Regular pumping reduces potential discomfort and ensures that the lactating mother has the ability to produce enough milk for the child.

Nursing mothers have the right to breaks and to privacy

For the first 12 months after a new mother returns to work, the law requires her employer to accommodate her need to nurse or pump. Employers must offer reasonable breaks, although they can overlap with existing breaks such as lunch. These breaks can be unpaid, so long as the employee has the ability to attend to her basic medical needs.

It's also important to realize that you have the right to privacy. Whether someone brings your child to work for your to nurse or you use a pump, you shouldn't have to deal with co-workers gawking or asking questions. The private space should not be a bathroom, but instead a quiet, sanitary room like an unused office. If your employer refuses to allow basic accommodations for your health while you lactate, you may need to take legal action to stand up for your rights.

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