BREASTFEEDING IN WASHINGTON STATE

 

Updated October 2021

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This memo explains your rights about breastfeeding/expressing milk in public and in the workplace. It also gives some basic information on working with your employer to create a plan for expressing milk at work, as well as breastfeeding tips and resources.

 

 

Can I Breastfeed in Public?

 

Yes. In Washington, you have the right to breastfeed your child in any public place. This means you can breastfeed in restaurants, stores, parks, shopping malls, libraries, and other public places.

 

You have the right to uncover your breast to breastfeed. It is not considered “indecent exposure.” No one can make you stop breastfeeding, cover yourself, move, or leave.

 

If you are discriminated against for breastfeeding in public, you can:

  • file a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission,

  • file a complaint with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (if the discrimination happened in Seattle), and

  • file a private lawsuit in court.

 

See listings under Filing a Complaint and The Law in the Resources section below.

 

 

Can I Breastfeed or Express Milk at Work?

 

Many workers in Washington state have the legal right to take extra breaks to express milk or breastfeed their baby.

 

Even if your employer doesn’t have to offer these breaks, you can still make a plan with them to achieve breastfeeding goals.

 

If you do have the right to take these extra breaks, this right includes:

  • a reasonable break you need until your child is 2 years old,

  • a clean and private place to take these breaks that is .

 

These rules apply whether you are breastfeeding your child or expressing milk to use later. Your employer does not have to pay you for these extra breaks.

 

How Do I Know if My Employer Is Covered by This Law?

 

If your employer has fifteen or more employees working within 75 miles of each other, and is not a religious or sectarian nonprofit organization, you have the right to take these breaks.

 

Even if your employer is not required to give you these breaks, it is worth trying to work out a plan that will support your breastfeeding goals. Read on for information about making a plan with your employer.

 

Washington State law encourages employers to make policies that support breastfeeding in the workplace, like allowing flexible work schedules, having a place to refrigerate breast milk and wash supplies.

 

For more information, see the Resources section below.

 

How Can I Prepare to Breastfeed at Work?

 

Make a plan with your employer.

 

Before your baby is born, talk with your supervisor about a plan for expressing your breast milk during work hours. You can do this even if your workplace isn’t covered by the law. Here are some suggestions to help create this plan:

  • Your employer may not know about the laws that support most breastfeeding employees. Try to talk with your supervisor before returning to work about your breastfeeding goals. Be prepared to help them understand how simple it will be to meet your needs. The laws are linked below in the Resources list.

 

  • Have ideas in mind before you talk to your supervisor. Explain how long it should take you to pump, how often you will need to pump, and how you will schedule this around your work duties. Emphasize that these needs are temporary. Be flexible.

 

  • Ask for a clean, comfortable, private location to pump. If your employer does not have a ready location, look around and find a private, comfortable room with a door that locks from the inside, and suggest it. If there is no private room or you work in a non-office environment, there are other options for setting up a private place. Contact the Breastfeeding Coalition of WA for some ideas. See Breastfeeding Support in the Resources section below.

 

 

  • If you feel your employer is not giving you enough time or flexibility to express milk, talk with him or her about balancing your work and nursing needs. Could you shorten your lunch break to make time for other breaks when you pump? Could you come in early or leave late to make up for the missed time? Make it clear that you are not asking for extra time off, just a better combination of breaks.

 

  • Depending on your job and the needs of your employer, think about returning to work slowly, like starting part-time, trying job-sharing, or telecommuting.

 

  • If you discuss your needs with your employer and they are not making accommodations for you, you can file a complaint. See Resources below.

 

Some practical tips:

 

  • Make sure you have the breastfeeding equipment you need, like a pump to help you express milk, and contact your health insurance plan to ask about your breastfeeding benefits. Federal law requires most health insurance plans to provide breastfeeding pumps and other equipment and counseling, often at no cost. See “Insurance rights” listed under The Law in the Resources section below.

 

  • Visit the room that you will use to express milk. If you plan to use an electric pump, find and test the electrical outlet. Make sure there is a clean refrigerator and a sink for washing your hands and breast pump equipment.

 

  • Download or request a copy of My Guide to Working and Breastfeeding. This booklet provides tips on how to make working and breastfeeding work for you. It has resources and information on preparing to go back to work, pumping and storing your breast milk and much more. (See listing under in the Resources section below.)

 

  • If you are having a hard time expressing all your breast milk before your break is over, you can try to speed up the process. For example, are you using a double kit to express milk from both breasts at the same time? Your local La Leche League may be able to help. (See listings under in the Resources section below.)

 

 

My Milk Supply is Going Down. What Do I Do?

 

It is possible that your milk supply will start to go down once you return to work, even if you are pumping regularly. Breastfeeding support from a trained professional can be very helpful. Contact your local Le Leche League or WithinReach to find breastfeeding help near you. Also, kellymom offers a wealth of information on a wide range of topics related to breastfeeding, including what affects milk supply and how to increase milk supply. (See listings under Breastfeeding Support in the Resources section below.)

 
Resources

 

Breastfeeding Support

  • Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington: A statewide network of coalitions promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding as a vital part of the health and development of children and families. 

    • By phone: (206) 838-8655  

  • WithinReachA statewide non-profit organization providing access to local resources and working with families, community partners, corporate and foundation leaders, and opinion makers.

    • WithinReach Family Health Hotline: 1-800-322-2588 or (206) 284-2465

  • My Guide to Working and Breastfeeding, by the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington

  • kellymom: Information about breastfeeding mothers, babies, breast milk, milk supply, common concerns and issues, and returning to work

  • La Leche LeagueMother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education.

    • By phone: 1-800-1-800-LA-LECHE

  • Office on Women’s HealthInformation and support on a range of breastfeeding issues. (En español)

    • By phone: 1-800-994-9662

 

For Employers

 

Filing a Complaint

 

The Law

 

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.

This information is current as of October 2021. Revised by Chloë Phalan, reviewed by JonaRose Feinberg and Andrew Kashyap. Acknowledgements to Jennifer Werdell, Alex Sosa, Inessa Baram-Blackwell, Tara Dotson, June Krumpotick, and Rachel Schwartz for their work on previous versions of this memo.

© 2021 Legal Voice — 1-206-682-9552

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)