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Sahira Long's picture

Recently, it came to light that a number of female Washington, DC police officers have faced work conditions that make it difficult for them to continue nursing their children after returning from maternity leave.

One of the women, Officer Sashay Brown, came forward to share her experience.  After returning to work two months after giving birth, Officer Brown made a formal request to work in the police station, not the street, because wearing her bullet-proof vest was restrictive and began to affect her breast milk supply.  The police department initally appeared to grant her request, but later informed her that she would have to work on the street and wear the required bullet proof vest or take unpaid leave.  Brown believes this decision was fueled by her complaining about the condition of the lactating room in the police station.

Despite the publicity about this case, Chief Cathy Lanier defended her policy saying there is not much more that she can do given how long mothers may choose to nurse their babies and the needs of her department.

This case illustrates the challenges many women face when returning to work while nursing.  Too often, employee and employer are “at odds” over breastfeeding support in the workplace.

Not only does breastfeeding provide health benefits for babies and mothers, it’s also a win-win-win for employers.  Supporting breastfeeding in the workplace often leads to increased productivity and loyalty among employees which results in less absenteeism and greater "presenteeism" when mothers return to work.  Studies have shown a $3-to-$1 return on investment for employers who establish lactation support

There’s no doubt that nursing police officers face unique challenges as they strive to work safely and continue to nurse their babies.  But many jobs and workplaces require creative and unique accommodations in order for us to achieve the win-win-win for mothers, babies and employers.  This willingness to work cooperatively with employees requires employers not only follow state and federal laws with regard to breastfeeding but also do their best to adapt the workplace within reason to support nursing mothers. This case is a great opportunity for Chief Lanier to reach out to her colleagues in other departments around the country to explore ways to support their officers while nursing.

In her “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding” in January 2011, Dr. Regina Benjamin, called on everyone to do their part to help those mothers who choose to breastfeed in order to enable them to do so successfully. I applaud Officer Brown and her husband, for their commitment to their decision to breastfeed.  They are, in their own way, answering the call.

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