This article is for women and men. Truly. Share this with men. Pumping or breastfeeding on set is absolutely federally protected, culturally encouraged, and still uncomfortable. Every employer (gender neutral) needs to be able to talk about the needs of a lactating person (milk producer). Breastfeeding and pumping education is absolutely vital to every single industry in which a lactating person may work, even the film industry. Every single man and woman needs to be familiar with these principles and strategies- YESTERDAY.
I’m a mom, a producer, an actress, and an activist. I’ve breastfed, expressed, or pumped milk for my 2 children on many different sets over the years. Even super small sets. Even just a 1-day shoot. Now is the time to adopt lactation accommodations for all levels of work. Here are a few laws, tips, and outside-of-the-box ideas to make your set legally compliant, respectful, and comfortable.
But first, a brief explanation of basic lactation so we are all on the same page.
Intro to Lactation
All people can lactate (produce milk). That’s right. All humans are born with mammary glands that produce milk in the presence of specific hormones. ‘Most likely’ a female identifying person who has given birth in the last 5 years will identify as a lactating person on your set, however lactating people are not specific just that particular identification. Womxn (inclusive) can and do breastfeed or lactate for many years, worldwide the natural weaning of a child (no longer drinking mother’s milk) typically happens between 2-7 years of life. Per child. Culturally speaking, you don’t know the values and practices and sex of many of the people on your set (unless you know them all intimately), so cast your net WIDE for who may or may not fall under the category of a breastfeeding, pumping, or more specifically, ‘lactating’ individual. Lactating men, same-sex partners, and wet-nurse practices are more common in Western Cultures than what is represented in American mass media.
Breasts produce milk based on timing, quantity, chemical structure, and medicinal needs of the individual child. That means the size of the child’s stomach capacity, the timing of their digestion, their age-specific nutrition requirement, and additional immunity needs overrides their breastfeeding parent’s needs. When a person is lactating, they can only control so much. If left unattended, breasts can leak or become tender, painful, enlarged, engorged, and infected which can lead to hospitalization of the mother/breastfeeding parent. Womxn cannot just override and ‘control’ their lactating status. Breastmilk is not a biohazard and is not even classified as a bodily fluid. Milk is considered milk. Some people breastfeed, pump breastmilk (using a manual or electric pump), or express milk using their hands and sometimes other tools. All the ways a person releases milk and the frequency at which they do it is individualized and often varied by time of day. Some people share the breastfeeding responsibility with another lactating individual, it is all based on choice.
Laws are here to protect everyone. Personal choices are not in question and should not be scrutinized, you can never know why people make the choices that they do and they have the right of privacy for those reasons. Lactating people come in all shapes, sizes, sexes, and gender identifications.
Federal Law requires:
Employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are required to provide basic accommodations for breastfeeding mothers at work. These accommodations include time for women to express milk and a private space (that is not a bathroom) each time they need to pump. Learn more about what is required of employers and what employees need to know at https://www.womenshealth.gov
“A place other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk” — U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act — Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision
“Private” means that other people cannot see an employee while she is pumping breastmilk. Often this means putting a lock on the door, but some companies use mobile screens or tall cubicle areas. The space does not have to be a permanent, dedicated lactation room. Resources at the end of the article show many solutions for providing permanent, flexible, or temporary spaces and even mobile options that can be used in virtually every type of industry.
“Nothing in this subsection shall preempt a State law that provides greater protection to employees than the protections provided for under this subsection.” — U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act — Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision
California Law requires:
Cal. Labor Code § 1030 et seq. (2001) provides that employers need to allow a break and provide a room for a mother who desires to express milk in private.
Cal. Assembly Concurrent Resolution 155 (1998) encourages the state and employers to support and encourage the practice of breastfeeding by striving to accommodate the needs of employees, and by ensuring that employees are provided with adequate facilities for breastfeeding and expressing milk for their children.
Tips for Lactation on set
Talk about lactation with the team that hires people, hires you, or people you hire (that is why this article should be shared with everyone). Ask if ‘lactating arrangements’ need to be included in your contract. Ask. Don’t wait to be told. It is no one’s darn business if you are a lactating person, BUT if you offer ‘lactating arrangements’ in your contracts, it will move the entire industry forward and save everyone a few hours of stress by allowing the discussion to happen prior to day one. As a producer, once I’m aware that lactating arrangements need to be made, I am more than happy to look up what I need to provide, ask the lactating person for their additional needs outside of the legal requirements, and make sure that a clear department head or person of contact is established and able to check in with our lactating team member for any issues (ex: power is out in the pumping room, lock won’t work, pump or milk storage changes by day). Consult https://www.womenshealth.gov for what to include in your contracts.
Always tell the sound department when you step away to breastfeed or pump. Sets run fast (sometimes) and your pumping room may change in proximity to where the sound department is set up for the next scene. Even though you absolutely deserve your privacy, don’t forget to tell the sound department head when you go to pump, you wouldn’t want your team to ask everyone where that ‘pumping’ sound is coming from. They can discreetly take care of the sound department’s needs when they are in the loop.
Breastfeeding or pumping, your wardrobe department needs to know that breast access is important. Your sound department needs to know where your mic will be moved or placed based on breast access. Your 1st AD needs to be aware that every 3 hours you will need to discreetly step away to the pumping room to breastfeed, pump, massage, heat, or whatever you need to do to FULLY take care of your breasts. A plugged duct is not something to be ignored until the end of the day.
I am an out-in-the-open breastfeeder, my children have always preferred no cover and never fed more than 5 minutes at a time throughout the day. The idea that I would breastfeed only in private is laughable in practice, as I would be spending every minute of my life in private. I am very much in support of breastfeeding in public for NUMEROUS reasons. But on set, I always step away. You know why? Because my kiddo needs to feed as much as possible in as little time as possible and I need a SAFE environment to snuggle and cuddle my babe. My two-year old kicked over a glass of water today while I was feeding her. She is an acrobat on the breast and a noisy drinker. There are many reasons I step away from a hot set, but the biggest one for me was that I need to focus on my babe. This was my time to stare into her beautiful eyes, softly caress her check, squeeze her chunky thighs, sing her a song, and bite her little fingers. This is my private time to be enveloped by the oxytocin and reset my inner peaceful spirit. Connecting with baby aids in milk production too! Feeding my baby is a magical experience and a film set is a beast. Always take the time to step away. Even for 2 minutes.
Leaking and engorgement can ruin the shot just as much as any other part of set operations, your director may need to know that you are stepping away if you begin to feel a ‘let down’ between takes on a hot set but your 1st AD, director, and support team may be all out of reach behind video village. Setting up a code word with your 1st AD can be beneficial, especially if you have to shout it across a loud set. If you can’t step away (or are blocked in, harnessed in place, or whatever else stands in your way – sets are crazy sometimes), it may be easier to say “Hey, Amanda, BLACKFISH!” because you deserve a little dignity when 27 people are constantly around your body. Laugh off the announcement, it’s no one’s business if it’s an inside joke or whatever, but this way you can get them to come help you take care of your business discreetly. You don’t ever need to tell anyone on set if you are a lactating person unless you want to share that with them. Sets are not safe for people that face many types of discrimination and your needs shouldn’t put you in an uncomfortable position.
Have respect for bodies. Do not touch, talk about, or become too familiar in any way. If you are on a team with a lactating person, respect their privacy. Not every person from every walk of life has the discernment to properly handle subjects regarding breasts. Some men have become predatory and inappropriate with breastfeeding/lactating people. It happens more than you think. It has happened to me. Fetishization makes the act of sustaining human life uncomfortable for all types of people, lactating or not. Report abuse right away. If a team member hears about and enacts fetishizing rhetoric privately about a lactation person, report them to the producers immediately. People may be sexually assaulted by individuals that do not recognize the autonomy of the person that lactates, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Breasts are not any more private or public based on lactation, it is a matter of choice. Respect people’s privacy and do not share or discuss a person’s lactation with people that are not professionally involved in the protection, process, or dressing of the person that lactates. Keep your thoughts on their choice off the set too.
- Contributions to this article by Lauren Archer, Los Angeles based postpartum doula and breastfeeding educator. For more breastfeeding information, check her out at @loveofalittleone on Instagram
Partners that support parent-friendly practices:
- World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/features/factfiles/breastfeeding/en/