Every new mom who chooses to breastfeed should be able to do so as long as she likes — even if she has to go back to work. The health benefits to both her and her baby far outweigh any slight inconvenience her need to pump in the workplace might cause her co-workers. So why exactly are only two cities protecting breastfeeding moms' rights in the workplace?
A new study out of the University of Pennsylvania and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) looked at how much support breastfeeding moms were offered on a city level across the country, as Science Daily reported. There is already a federal law in place that protects a woman's right to pump breast milk at work called Break Time For Working Mothers, but its protections are limited.
Essentially, the Break Time For Working Mothers law requires an employer to provide reasonable break time for women to express milk for one year after their child is born, and a place for them to do so that is not a washroom. That being said, the employer is not required to pay for this break, and workplaces with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to this federal law. Which leaves a massive amount of women to try to make their own accommodations at work for expressing milk.
CHOP lactation program director Diane Spatz and Elizabeth Froh, a nurse scientist at CHOP, decided to look into which cities across the country might offer more support than the basic level protected by federal law.
They enlisted six Penn Nursing undergraduates, according to Penn Today, and set about trying to get a clearer picture of which cities offered breastfeeding support for working moms. Researchers looked at websites, contacted the mayors' offices and followed up with phone calls in each capital and the two second largest cities in every state. This was 151 cities in all.
The results were less than positive — considerably less. Only two cities, New York City and Philadelphia, offered moms extra support for breastfeeding when they went back to work. And the information was apparently difficult to get in the first place, as Froh explained to Science Daily:
You can easily access information about legal protections for breastfeeding moms on a federal and state level. But it's a challenge to get at the city-level legislation. It was surprising to all of us how difficult and inaccessible this information truly was.
One of the research assistants also noted that, when she was calling city offices, her queries were met with defensiveness, evasion, and silence in some cases. When she changed the way she asked about city support for breastfeeding moms, posing as a mom herself who might need access to extra help, she was told quite quickly that there was "no protection," according to the same article in Science Daily.
Considering the fact that only two out of a possible 151 cities offered protection for lactating moms (like extra breaks to pump milk more frequently, more space, storage for expressed milk, etc.), the researchers heard this response a lot. And here's why this is a problem, as Froh told Penn Today:
People have been asking us why we did this. Well, 56 percent of the workforce in the United States is now women. With all of the limitations in the federal law, there is a huge segment of the working population that isn’t covered. We see this as a social-justice issue and a public-health issue. This one study, looking at what is out there currently, is just a starting point.
There is irrefutable evidence that breastfeeding is good for both mothers and babies. And if a woman chooses to do so let's face it; the Break Time For Nursing Moms isn't a law that was written to support everyone. Cities need to step in on a grass-roots level, to start making sure they are protecting more the rights of more than half of their work force. Because two cities out of 151 is quite simply unacceptable.