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Genevieve Colvin's picture

Being a new mother is not easy and getting breastfeeding off to a good start is a small – no, make that a HUGE miracle!  Add the stress of losing your job because you tried to give your baby the best start in life?  I can’t even imagine it.

Breastfeeding became a protected Civil Right in California last year when Gov. Brown signed AB 2386, which amended our Fair Employment and Housing Act, to include a woman’s breastfeeding status.

However, for years women in the US have been at risk of losing their job, because of a series of Federal Cases, in which the old patriarchy selectively sided with employers who opted to fire women who were breastfeeding.  In essence, the courts felt that there was no connection between lactation and pregnancy.  (Explain that to me….please?)

That changed yesterday and THIS IS HUGE!

The 5th Circuit Federal Court sided with the EEOC in the case of Donnica Venters, who after taking a pregnancy leave, requested that she come back to work and be allowed to pump, and was then fired.  In their decision they stated that lactation IS related to pregnancy:

“The Fifth Circuit noted the biological fact that lactation is a physiological condition distinct to women who have undergone a pregnancy.  Accordingly, under Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, firing a woman because she is lactating or expressing milk is unlawful sex discrimination, since men as a matter of biology could not be fired for such a reason.”

This has very big implications, because the case law previously did not support that lactation was covered under Title VII. As a result, pregnant and parenting students had very little legal protections for breastfeeding under Title IX and women could face discrimination and harassment in the workplace due to their breastfeeding status.

Women every day experience discrimination because of their breastfeeding status.

Often it is subtle (ask the nurse who struggles to get breaks to maintain her milk supply, while others cover each other for smoke breaks.)

Often it is overt (mooing at breastfeeding women and making sexual innuendo about their breasts.)

Whether they are employed or simply sitting at the coffee shop, many women are too afraid to stand up for their status as a breastfeeding mother.  The most stalwart of breastfeeding advocate, when confronted about public breastfeeding, can feel stymied by the sheer audacity of someone threatening them in public, for simply feeding their babies.  It’s a type of vulnerability that sneaks up on you.  In that moment when you think you would have the right words, the right comeback, sheer shock that someone would be so insensitive, can put you into a place of complete and total compliance.

How can a mother, who desperately needs her paycheck, deal with harassment and discrimination?  How can a new mother, going out into the community, feel comfortable, if the store clerk tells her that she is “disgusting” for breastfeeding her baby?

Over 45 states now have laws on the books, that protect a mother’s right to breastfeed in public!

Does your state have it’s own “Civil Rights” companion laws?

In California, ours is the “Unruh Civil Rights Act” and the “Fair Employment and Housing Act”.  Interestingly enough, our “enforcement” for our public breastfeeding law could be our Unruh Civil Rights Act, because it requires all California businesses (including all public agencies) to treat it’s patrons equally (i.e. they may not discriminate on the basis of sex, which, in California, includes a woman’s breastfeeding status.)

Oh, yeah…….Facebook is a California business.   I wonder if kicking all those breastfeeding mothers off their pages is a violation?

One way we can help mothers and babies, is to think of breastfeeding as a CIVIL RIGHT!

You have the right to feed your baby with your human milk.


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