Paper Trails

Protections for nursing mothers at work

As a business owner or HR professional, you may come across an employee of yours that has recently had a child.  In this scenario, you may be wondering what protections you must offer new mothers, particularly when it comes to nursing.  Upon returning to work, you must offer certain protections to nursing mothers.

Recognizing the complexities of this situation, we have put together this guide to help.  Once finished with this article, readers will have a better understanding of the protections that nursing mothers have in the workplace.  We will cover federal guidelines, Maine’s specific regulations, and the nuances of paid versus unpaid nursing breaks. Our aim is to provide small business employers and HR managers with practical advice on how to create a supportive workplace for all employees, including nursing mothers.

Federal protections for nursing mothers

The overseer of workplace protections for all employees, including nursing mothers, in the United States is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under the FLSA, employers are required to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for their nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time the employee needs to express milk. Additionally, employers must offer a private place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion for this purpose. It’s essential to understand that these federal protections serve as a baseline, which states can build upon to offer greater support.

Maine protections for nursing mothers

Maine takes protections a step further from federal laws.  For this, Maine has been applauded for its commitment to supporting nursing mothers in the workplace. The state’s legislation requires employers to provide adequate unpaid break time or permit an employee to use paid break time or mealtime each day to express breast milk for her nursing child for up to three years following childbirth.

Moreover, Maine employers are obligated to make reasonable efforts to provide a clean room or other location, not a bathroom, where an employee can express breast milk in privacy. This dedication ensures that Maine’s protections for nursing mothers go above and beyond federal requirements, offering a more supportive environment for working mothers.

Are nursing breaks paid or unpaid?

A common question among employers and HR managers is whether nursing breaks are considered paid or unpaid. According to the FLSA, employers are not required to compensate nursing mothers for breaks taken for the purpose of pumping. However, if an employer already provides compensated breaks, an employee who uses that break time for pumping must be compensated in the same way as other employees are for break time. In states like Maine, the law allows employees to use existing paid break time or mealtime to express breast milk. This approach provides flexibility, allowing businesses to integrate nursing breaks into their existing break policies.

Creating a supportive workplace for nursing mothers

Supporting nursing mothers at work helps in two ways.  First, it keeps your business in line with its’ legal requirements.  Secondly, it’s helps create a positive workplace culture that values employee well-being and work-life balance. Here are some practical steps employers can take:

  • Develop a Clear Policy: Implement a written policy to have in your employee handbook detailing the support for nursing mothers, including the availability of breaks and private spaces. This policy should be communicated clearly to all employees to ensure awareness and understanding.
  • Educate Your Team: Provide training for management and staff that encourages a supportive and respectful environment for nursing mothers. Awareness can help reduce any potential stigma or discomfort surrounding breastfeeding in the workplace.
  • Offer Flexibility: Where possible, offer flexible scheduling options for nursing mothers to make it easier for them to balance work and breastfeeding needs.
  • Provide Resources: Consider providing resources such as breast pumps or refrigeration options for storing milk, which can significantly ease the breastfeeding journey for working mothers.


Understanding and implementing the protections for nursing mothers at work is crucial for small business employers and HR managers. By embracing both federal protections and state-specific regulations, businesses can create a supportive environment that recognizes the importance of breastfeeding. Contact our team if you are in need of HR support in areas such as this.