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How to know if your employee is breastfeeding or using formula (and how to accommodate)


This question popped up recently, and it’s a good one. Employers might feel awkward about talking with employees about breastfeeding. After all, employers are constantly reminded NOT to ask employees detailed questions about personal medical conditions. And breastfeeding is personal.

But this topic is a little different because employers have an obligation to provide certain accommodations to breastfeeding employees — particularly with the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers (“PUMP” Act) that took effect on December 29, 2022.

To read more information about the PUMP Act, click HERE.

An employer that violates the law faces fines and the possibility of an employee lawsuit. An employer that improperly denies an employee’s request faces those repercussions if the employer assumes that the employee’s request is not valid and doesn’t provide the required break time.

Employee returns from maternity leave — What should employers say?

Employers, of course, don’t want to assume (or make judgments) about whether an employee is (or isn’t) breastfeeding. Having a generic, supportive conversation with a pregnant employee or a new mom would be okay and most likely welcomed, however.

Employers could say something like:

  • “Congratulations about the new baby! Is there anything we can do here at work to provide you support during the workday?” (opens the door on the topic)
  • “Congratulations on the new baby! Let us know if there are any specific ways we can support you here during the workday. Here is a copy of our company policies about maternity leave and other logistics.” (takes the company policy approach)

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health offers this advice:

“The most important step to promote your breastfeeding support services is to have managers and supervisors talk about your policies with any pregnant employee. When a woman tells her supervisor she is pregnant, the supervisor should discuss the company’s lactation support program and policies when talking about maternity leave logistics.”

“Many women report that when their supervisor brings up the subject, they feel valued and respected … because it shows that the supervisor supports breastfeeding moms and that the company values the health of its employees … it also helps them feel good about their employer and increases the likelihood they will return to work after their maternity leave.”

Key to remember: Employers should be prepared to support employees returning to work after maternity leave — whether they’re breastfeeding or not.