Lactation Policy

Policy Statement 

Columbia University is committed to supporting the health and well-being of new parents and their babies. In recognition of the needs of nursing parents, Columbia has an institutional policy for lactation breaks during the work day.

This policy is in accordance with federal, state and local laws. The University has established procedures for requesting time and access to appropriate spaces for this purpose.


Columbia University will provide nursing employees reasonable break time each time the employee has the need to express breast milk pursuant to this policy. 

Employees may express milk during regularly scheduled paid break and paid/unpaid meal periods. If unpaid break time is needed, the employee may work before or after their normal shift to make up the amount of time used during the unpaid break time(s) for the expression of breastmilk, as long as working beyond the established hours of their department/office is approved, in advance, by their supervisor, and is consistent with the operational needs of the department. (Lactation Room access is available to the employee during the basic work week and any overtime or additional hours worked.)

Such break time, if possible and as applicable, should run concurrently with rest and meal periods already provided to the employee. When an employee uses a paid break time to express milk, the employee will be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time. If the break time cannot run concurrently with a paid break period already provided to the employee, the break time to express milk will be unpaid unless otherwise required by law.

Requests must be made in advance to departmental supervisors or Human Resources representatives, as appropriate, and should state the anticipated duration of the request, as well as the break/meal period option that the employee chooses to elect. If their needs change, they must submit such requests to their departmental supervisors or Human Resources representatives, as appropriate. Supervisors should remain flexible to accommodate those requests.

The University will allow for reasonable break time at least once every three hours for no less than 30 minutes (plus travel time if needed) if requested by the employee.  Please note that the time needed to express milk can exceed 30 minutes, and that the length of time may vary throughout the day.

Supervisors should be flexible when working with the employee to manage their schedule. If there are issues relating to the scheduling of breaks for an employee to express milk, the supervisor should consult with Human Resources to explore options.

Office of Work/Life Lactation Rooms: The Office of Work/Life maintains private, secure Lactation Rooms on all University campuses that are separate from the bathrooms, shielded from view and free from intrusion.  A list of those spaces can be found on the Office of Work/Life website. These rooms are either equipped with or in close proximity to refrigerators for milk storage and sinks or microwaves for cleaning equipment. There is an online calendar sign up for the Lactation Rooms so that employees are able to find and reserve available spaces at the times or reasonably close to the times that they need to express milk.

Rooms managed by the Office of Work/Life are equipped with a hospital grade pump.  Personal attachments for use of the pumps are available for purchase through the Office of Work/Life or can be purchased through independent retailers. 

Nursing employees have a right to request the use of the Lactation Room. Employees who wish to access these spaces must contact Work/Life ([email protected] or 212-854-8019) at least five days in advance of their return to work or school to gain access to the appropriate rooms. All rooms are accessed via key pad code or card swipe on a University ID that must be programmed in advance. Requests made to Work/Life will be addressed within five business days. 

Anyone who accesses a Lactation Room for a different purpose or allows an unauthorized person to access the room will have their access revoked and may be subject to disciplinary action.

Some departments have elected to establish and maintain their own Lactation Rooms. Information about those spaces can also be found on the Office of Work/Life website. Many of these spaces are equipped with hospital grade pumps.  

Should two or more nursing employees need to use the lactation room at the same time, they may mutually agree to share the lactation room or decide amongst themselves who will use it first. If the employees are unable to agree, they should contact Work/Life ([email protected] or 212-854-8019) and the University will make best efforts to resolve the dispute.  Employees may follow up with Work/Life ([email protected] or 212-854-8019) regarding their request, as necessary. 

Employees at CUIMC may also obtain access to Lactation Rooms at NYP if they are convenient to their work location.  Please contact Work/[email protected] to request contact information and procedures for those spaces.

Setting-up Alternative Space:  If the already existing Lactation Rooms are not within walking distance (10 minutes) of an employee’s primary work location, the employee should contact their manager/supervisor, who will work with the Office of Work/Life to identify an appropriate alternative space.

Requirements for appropriate space include:

• Private room that can be locked from the inside

• Sign to indicate the room is occupied

• Electrical outlet

• Comfortable chair made of a material that can be easily cleaned

• A table or other surface on which to rest a breast pump and other supplies

• Trash can

• Sink located either in the room or in close proximity to clean equipment

• Refrigerator either in the room or in close proximity for milk storage

Temporary arrangements may be made in a vacant office or other space, so long as it is made private and inaccessible to the public when it is being used for milk expression. In cases where the lactation space is multipurpose, notice will be provided to all other employees as soon as practicable that (i) the room must be used solely as a lactation room during times when nursing employees are using it to express breast milk; and (ii) that the room is given preference for use as a Lactation Room (e.g. sign). A bathroom is never an appropriate space for this purpose.

In the event that providing a lactation room imposes an undue hardship on the University, the University will engage in a cooperative dialogue with nursing employees to determine what, if any, accommodation(s) may be available. The University will provide a final written determination to nursing employees at the conclusion of the cooperative dialogue process which identifies any accommodation(s) granted or denied.

The University is not responsible for ensuring the safekeeping of expressed milk stored in any refrigerator on its premises. The employee is required to store all expressed milk in closed containers, regardless of the method of storage and to bring it home each evening.

The University will not discriminate against a nursing employee who chooses to express milk in the workplace and strictly prohibits any form of retaliation or harassment against any nursing employee requesting or obtaining break time for expression of breast milk. Any nursing employee who believes that they have been the victim of such discrimination, retaliation, or harassment should inform Columbia’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. The University will investigate and take necessary corrective action where appropriate. 

This policy will be available to all new hires, to employees returning to work following childbirth, and to all Columbia employees annually. Managers are encouraged to review this policy with employees who are preparing for a parental leave before they take leave and upon their return.