A Breastfeeding Mother's Rights in the Workplace and Society
So, you chose to breastfeed. Congratulations! You have made one of the most important decisions for you and your baby. So why are many women choosing not to breastfeed even now? Until recently, there were not enough laws protecting women both in society and the workplace. However, since 2010, there have been many laws put into place that protect the breastfeeding mother and her child. I myself am a full-time employed mother outside of my home, so I know first-hand how important knowing your rights can be! Unfortunately, many women are still not aware of these rights, and so it is important to spread the word!
Working Mothers in the U.S. It is common to have both parents work outside of the home. In 2015, it was reported that 54% of all mothers with children younger than 12 months were employed, and 73% of those employed worked full-time (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). If balancing home, work, and social life weren’t enough, these women also balance breastfeeding/exclusively pumping as well. While this seems like a lot, there are ways that a breastfeeding mother in the workforce can be successful. If possible, try to return to work gradually. Not only will this gives you time to adjust to work and your new baby, it will also help your body make a good supply of milk ("Breastfeeding...For My Baby. For Me.", n.d.).
Employers’ Responsibilities In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which in turn would help bring further support and rights to breastfeeding mothers in the United States. Section 4207 of the Affordable Care Act amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 by stating that employers must provide reasonable, though unpaid, break time for breastfeeding mothers to express milk and a place, other than a restroom, that is private and clean where she can express her milk (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). It is illegal to force a breastfeeding mother to pump inside of a restroom or her car. The employer is not required to pay an employee for the break time received, or for any work time spent for such purpose. However, employers with fewer than fifty employees are not subject to these requirements (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017). If an employer is found to be breaking these requirements, the first step is to contact the business’s human resources department to file a complaint. Employer support is critical when trying to breastfeed and maintain employment. Support for breastfeeding in the workplace can be defined as: written corporate policies supporting breastfeeding women, teaching employees about breastfeeding, providing a private space for breastfeeding mothers, allowing flexible scheduling to support milk expression during work hours, providing on-site or near-site child care, providing high-quality breast pumps, and offering professional lactation management services and support (Shealy, Li, Benton-Davis & Grummer-Strawn, n.d.). While not all options are required, such as providing high-quality breast pumps, these are suggestions that will help to improve the breastfeeding mother’s experience and help to maintain a good employee/employer relationship.
Location and Facilities Provisions Unfortunately, many women find themselves expressing milk in unsanitary bathroom stalls due to fear or misinformation. Fortunately, laws require that the employer provide a private area for breastfeeding activities. However, this area cannot be a toilet stall, and must be kept sanitary. Employers must provide a location in which women can express milk privately (Murtagh & Moulton, 2011). Employment Discrimination Provisions Employment discrimination based on expression of milk is prohibited. Six states and the District of Columbia broadly forbid employers from discriminating based on breastfeeding activities or breastfeeding status (Murtagh & Moulton, 2011).
, State Breastfeeding Laws Forty-nine American states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have laws that allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. These states include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017). Twenty-nine American states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands excused breastfeeding from public indecency laws. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017). Twenty-eight American states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws in relation to breastfeeding in the workplace. These states include: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017). Seventeen American states and Puerto Rico exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty or allow jury service to be postponed. These states include: California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017). It is crucial that you know your stat laws, and to make sure that those around you know them as well. When confronted with someone who might challenge your right to breastfeed, it is always best to stay calm, and to read them your rights. If you can, obtain a copy of your state laws that you can keep with you in your wallet. It only takes a few minutes to calmly and appropriately educate others on the subject.