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‘No mother ever has to choose between a job and nursing her child’: PUMP Act, supporting new moms’ right to breastfeed at work, edges closer to becoming law

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Congress has sent a show of support for millions of new working mothers, passing a key piece of legislation that requires employers to support breastfeeding parents.

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed a major piece of legislation called the PUMP Act that requires employers to support breastfeeding women by providing space and time to express milk at work.

The PUMP Act, or Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, was passed with bipartisan support as an amendment to Congress’ fiscal year 2023 omnibus appropriations package.

The omnibus now goes to the House, where it is also expected to pass, and then will be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

“The health benefits of breastfeeding are without question. What has been a question is a women’s protection at the job site to pump safely,” Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, said in a statement.

“If a mother chooses to breastfeed her baby, she deserves the legal protection to do so without having to worry about it impacting her career,” she added. “I am encouraged to see the PUMP Act pass the Senate — good progress toward ensuring no mother ever has to choose between a job and nursing her child.”

As MarketWatch has previously reported, the absence of federal laws on the issue means that employers aren’t required to provide time and space for breastfeeding parents, and the decision to do so is left up to companies’ discretion.

Some moms quit breastfeeding early because they’re not able to pump at work. Others quit their jobs because they don’t want to give up nursing their baby.

The benefits of breastfeeding for the baby include protection from multiple illnesses from ear infections to respiratory infections, as well as prevention of longterm conditions like obesity, Type 1 diabetes, and more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Breastfeeding is important for the mother too: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents continue breastfeeding “beyond 1 year, and up to 2 years” as it confers benefits for the mother, such as providing protections against diabetes, high blood pressure, breast and ovarian cancer. 

The newly passed PUMP Act for Nursing Mothers would build on an existing 2010 law that requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom space for breastfeeding employees to pump by clarifying employers’ obligations under the law.

The bill, which would have expanded breastfeeding protections for nine million nursing moms, was not initially not passed by the Senate in June, but made it to the finish line in December.

Some industries, such as railroad and aviation, have opposed the bill, as they say it is disruptive to their workplaces.

“All too often, workplace lactation accommodations are seen as a nice-to-have amenity rather than an essential right,” Sascha Mayer, co-founder of Mamava, which creates lactation pods, said in a statement.

“The passage of the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act is a historic win that ensures that all breastfeeding parents have lactation accommodations at work,” she added.

Write to MarketWatch reporter Aarthi Swaminathan at [email protected]

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