For many women, returning to work is one of the reasons they give up breastfeeding or, even sadder, do not initiate it at all. With short maternity leave and having to go back to work to be able to put food on the table and pay the bills, the health of their babies is at risk!
In March of this year, Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Health Care Reform, was signed into law. In this section, employers must provide a place other than a bathroom and reasonable time for women to express their breastmilk during the baby’s first year of life.
An Employee Lactation Room needs a chair for the mother to sit on while pumping, a table or stand for the pump, a plug for the pump and a lock on the door. The logistics don’t seem to be complicated. Privacy is a key element during pumping. A quiet place to help the mother relax/unwind from her work related tasks, to help her breastmilk come down and to be able to collect it, store it and feed it to her baby later on.
How does society expect women to relax in a bathroom, where people are in and out, not to mention the smell and the germs? Or the printer/fax/mail room where there is no lock on the door and, again, people are in and out? Women in these circumstances are worried about somebody coming into the room and seeing them hooked into a machine pumping their breasts. Did I mention that some or all of their upper body is exposed (yes, that means breasts out). If people get so sensitive or upset by a woman breastfeeding in public where the child’s head is actually covering the mother’s breast, can you imagine people’s reactions to seeing a woman feeding a pump???
Section 4207 from the Health Care Reform is a huge first step to ensure that babies are not deprived from breastmilk because their mothers have to go back to work. This gives society hope that a healthier generation will be raised and that, slowly but surely, breastfeeding will become the norm. Yes, there are still things that need to be improved, clarified or worked on such as the definition of reasonable time, but this is a start!
The United States Breastfeeding Committee has put together a list of frequently asked questions and resources to help clarify doubts from either employees or employers. Also, Los Angeles Breastfeeding Task Force from California has created a new project called Breastfeeding Works that specializes in supporting breastfeeding in the workplace. This is a great resource for employers and employees in California to learn and understand California’s law regarding lactation accommodation in the workplace and its benefits to the employer and employee. There is also a section about how to file a claim in the case that your rights are not being enforced. Remember, you as a mother are not only speaking out for yourself, but you’re also defending your baby’s right to have the nutrition he/she deserves and a healthy start in life! Speak out now!
Saray Hill is an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) at Mother's Utopia Lactation Services, which serves families in Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley.