Complying with Federal Lactation Rules
Amy VanHaren discusses family benefits, lactation support, and how the pandemic and new federal legislation are moving the issue of breastfeeding at work forward. Her company, Pumpspotting, offers baby-feeding software to new breastfeeding parents and corporate lactation programs to businesses.
We’re a baby-feeding support solution for both companies and parents. We help parents navigate the day-to-day of nursing and pumping and feeding through access to lactation consultants, a mobile app and all the support systems they need to navigate feeding. We’ve served more than 70,000 parents to date.
Then we saw the opportunity, especially as the world has moved in this direction around family benefits and with the federal regulations, to help solve the problem for companies to be bridging the gap on both sides. We help companies create and implement workplace lactation programs, and we look at their policy and look at their spaces to check for compliance. We’ve worked with small companies and Fortune 100 businesses.
The PUMP Act [Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, signed into law in 2022] actually expanded requirements that started under the Fair Labor Standards Act. That started requiring employers to provide a private space and a reasonable amount of break time for nursing employees to express breast milk. The Fair Labor Standards Act is what put the first protections around breastfeeding workers in place. The PUMP Act has expanded those requirements in a couple of important ways. First, it expanded the protections to all breastfeeding employees. Salaried employees, for example, are included, and that’s an expansion of nine million people, including teachers, farm workers and nurses. It also clarifies that pumping time counts as work time. It also improved an employee’s ability to seek compensation as recourse against their employer if they don’t conform to the law. The compensation gives parents a stake in this conversation in a way that they didn’t before.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act [which went into effect in June] says employers must provide pregnant employees with reasonable accommodations when their ability to perform their job is temporarily limited by pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions. For example, they may need to sit, drink water, require closer parking, flexible hours or additional break time to recover from childbirth. And lactation needs are part of that. The important part of the PWFA is that employers must engage in a conversation with an employee about their needs in an interactive way. So, as a parent, I don’t have to go to my company with a note saying I need accommodation for pumping. It is just covered as part of this. And my employer has to engage in a dialogue with me around my needs and what that looks like.
Absolutely. COVID really cracked it open. There was a long-running, underlying issue of the way women have had to navigate the multilayered nature of childcare and family and home. And in COVID, we were forced into a situation that increased the burden of care on women and mothers. I think it was over a million working mothers left the workforce during COVID. This shifted the conversation around the reality of trying to balance work and home and all of these things. We saw the impact both from an economics standpoint, in terms of women who left the workforce, and we saw it in the social conversation around how companies were supporting parents.
And what’s been interesting with the statistics that have come out is that with hybrid and remote work and the shift towards flexibility in the workplace, we’re actually seeing women roaring in their return to the workforce. I think that the numbers now are essentially almost as high as they’ve been since the previous peak in 2000. I think that we are cracking open the underlying issues, allowing us to reimagine work in a way that has benefited women and mothers. And they’re able to do it in new structures in a new format in a way that is serving as more of an equalizer, and I think that piece is really exciting.
We’re helping companies think about a comprehensive workplace lactation program. There’s four areas to that. The first is policy and compliance. Do you have a milk expression policy? Are you aware of the federal and state regulations? Are you meeting the needs of parents around space, break time and communication?
The second bucket is space. Are you providing a private, safe, lockable, secure space? And then are you going above and beyond that space? A basic, private accommodation is amazing, but what really helps parents be successful are things like a sink and fridge. And is it close to their office and comfortable? And how do they book it?
The third is supported outcomes. That’s having access to evidence-based information and lactation consultants and all the things that you need to be able to achieve your feeding goals. And the last is access to care. That’s really on the healthcare side. That’s whether they have an easy way to get to all those feeding experts and lactation consultants. You might have lactation consultants covered as part of your health insurance, but how easy is it for parents—when they’re on day three and the milk is coming in and they have a tiny baby crying—for them to get access to it?
I think it’s really fair to say that lactation has been very invisible within workplaces. The statistics show that over 42% of employees rank their lactation support worse than what they had hoped for. And 50% of breastfeeding parents consider a job change because of that. Breastfeeding lawsuits are up 800% in the last decade.
One thing we work with companies on is the difference between tolerance and inclusion. Tolerance is a parent coming to you and saying, “I am coming back from maternity leave, and I intend to breastfeed, so I’ll need a place to pump.” Tolerance is saying, “OK, great. We’ll help you figure it out and make that happen for you.” Inclusion is building support for lactating parents into your culture in such a way that they don’t have to come to tell you what they need from you because it’s already part of the policy. Ultimately, it’s part of the culture that you’re not being discriminated against for having to take time to pump.
I think we’re evolving to a place where companies are starting to understand the benefits of supporting their population, shifting their culture, and ultimately signaling to everyone that they are a company that values women and families. There are huge impacts on retention rates by those who feel supported by their company when it comes to breastfeeding. We worked with DraftKings, and I think what’s been exciting is to work with a company that is forward-thinking about how they recruit and retain females in their workforce. We’ve had a lot of success, not just with companies who are primarily female-centric already but those that are trying to attract and improve their talent acquisition. About 20% of our customers have male-dominated workforces. We pretty much across the board have between 98% and 100% of the parents who use Pumpspotting say they feel better about the company they work for because they were given the program.
I’m enthused and optimistic that lactation benefits have become a real conversation within companies in a way it hasn’t been before, which feels really exciting. I do think, though, we still have a lot of education, awareness and a way to go before we get to a place where parents aren’t feeling as vulnerable and having to fight for their needs within companies.