Maternal Mental Health: Lactation Accommodation in the Workplace

Maternal Mental Health and Lactation Accommodations for Employees 

As a business owner or HR professional, you understand how important it is to create a safe and inclusive work environment for your employees. One group that has often been overlooked is lactating employees in the workplace. Fortunately, in recent years, policies and laws have shifted to support lactating employees' rights better and improve their overall mental health. This May, New York State and the entire country recognize Maternal Mental Health Month, providing a perfect opportunity to explore these laws and accommodations that work to improve mental health while supporting lactating employees in the workplace.

Why Respecting Lactation Accommodation in the Workplace is Important

According to the CDC, more than 80% of new mothers plan to breastfeed their babies, but only 25% of mothers exclusively breastfeed for the recommended six months. One of the main reasons for this drop-off is a need for more support in the workplace. However, by instituting policies that support lactating employees, your business can foster a supportive and accommodating workplace - making it a place where lactating employees feel comfortable, welcome, and respected. Moreover, recognizing the importance of supporting lactating employees aligns with your organization's dedication to innovation, diversity, and excellence, which in the long run, benefits your entire workplace.

The Legal Rights of Lactating Employees in the Workplace

Currently, lactating employees are legally protected by The Fair Labor Standards Act, under Section 7, which allows them to pump breast milk at work. New York State also has the Breastfeeding Mothers Bill of Rights, which makes it illegal to discriminate against lactating employees who need to pump in the workplace. Updates to expanded lactation requirements in New York State take effect on June 7th, 2023. Both laws ensure the right of lactating employees to have break time to pump milk and a secure, private space. It also is strongly recommended that companies have a designated area designated for lactation policies and accommodations.

 How to Create an Accommodating Workplace

One significant benefit of creating accommodations for lactating employees is promoting workplace diversity and inclusivity. Some easy steps include:

  • Designating a clean, private, and secure space (not a bathroom) where employees can pump breast milk during the workday.
  • Develop a policy that provides employees with the necessary breaks to pump milk and ensure all employees, including managers, adhere to this policy.
  • Create a system to ensure that employees are aware of these policies - include it in the employee handbook or a staff memo and make sure it is discussed during employee onboarding.

Further Steps to Support Maternal Mental Health 

While creating the accommodations mentioned above is a good starting point, we encourage additional support. Consider providing access to resources to help new mothers transition into motherhood, including flexible scheduling, increasing time off periods like parental leave, making counseling services easily accessible, or even hosting a support group on-site for new mothers.

Respecting lactation accommodation in the workplace is more important than ever. Providing lactating employees with the support they need aligns with your organization's commitment to diversity, innovation, and positive employee experience. Furthermore, businesses must ensure that their lactating employees feel included, understood, supported, and accommodated - not only are we advocating for their well-being, but it's the right thing to do.

Let's all take a moment to recognize Maternal Mental Health Month and commit to supporting lactating employees in our workplaces.

Your EBC HR Advisor and HR Generalist can help your company update and expand your current lactation handbook policy.  Contact us today to learn more.