A common asinine “suggestion” to breastfeeding mamas — whether they’re trying to pump at work or when they’re out and about and need to feed the baby — is always, “Why don’t you do that in the bathroom where it’s ‘private?’” I don’t know about you, but I personally wouldn’t want to eat a meal in a public restroom. No way, no how. So in addition to the general ick factor and grossness, are there any dangers of breastfeeding in a bathroom? What about pumping? I asked an OB-GYN who is also an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) her thoughts on the matter, and I was shocked at what I found out.
Dr. Kameelah Phillips, OB-GYN, IBCLC, and founder of OBabymaternity.com, explains to Romper in an email interview that “technically, there are no dangers to breastfeeding in the bathroom.” Uh, say what? Phillips explains, “The baby’s mouth makes direct contact with the breast, so there is no way for a virus or bacteria to enter the baby’s mouth aside from direct contact with a contaminated hand or object in the public restroom.”
However, and this is a huge however, Phillips adds, “While there are no specific health dangers, I strongly believe our goal should be to normalize breastfeeding in our culture.” Phillips says women shouldn’t feel like they have to hide in a bathroom just to feed their baby. “We have to ask ourselves if we would enjoy eating our breakfast, lunch, or dinner in a public restroom? If the answer is no, then the mother-baby unit deserves the same respect and should not be subjected to the bathroom for their meals.”
Even pumping can be safely accomplished in a bathroom, according to Phillips. But you have to make sure the pump parts are completely kept away from wet surfaces (yuck), trash cans, and toilet seats. “If a mother has clean hands and no contact inside the bottle or flange, there is little room for disease transmission.”
Still sounds pretty gross to do, and Phillips is right, we absolutely should not feel like we have to be banned to the bathroom just to feed our hungry children. Phillips said women should definitely know their rights when it comes to pumping before they go back to work — and I think we should all know our rights when it comes to breastfeeding in public, in general.
As far as your pumping rights at work, according to Kelly Mom, the federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law, which was enacted in 2010 (thanks, Obama), “has helped make breastfeeding and working possible for more moms across the country.” Kelly Mom also noted that the law applies to all hourly employees “covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act” and employers are required to provide a clean, private place that is dedicated to breastfeeding employees. And it cannot be the bathroom, thank god. Phillips adds, “The Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide reasonable break time and private space (other than a bathroom) for milk expression for the first year of the child’s life.”
Unfortunately, there are some loopholes. “The employer is not required to pay her for any break time use for pumping. Furthermore, employers do not have to adhere to these rules if there are less than 50 employees if the requirements cause ‘undue hardship’ on the business,” Phillips explained. “It is important to understand that federal and state laws can vary. The federal requirements do not overshadow state laws if the state laws provide greater protection for the woman.”
As far as actually breastfeeding in public, according to What to Expect, “Breastfeeding in public is legal and protected by federal law. Most states have legislation that gives women the right to nurse in public. But even if you’re in a state that doesn’t have such laws on the books, you still have every right to feed your baby.”
“Knowledge of [a woman’s] rights can help strengthen her commitment to her breastfeeding/pumping efforts, normalize breastfeeding in the workplace, and ensure that women are never offered the bathroom as an acceptable location for pumping or feeding,” Phillips says.
And though it may not technically be “dangerous” to breastfeed or pump in a restroom, we absolutely should not have to be banned in there to do something as important and natural as feeding our children. It’s gross and unpleasant. Know your rights. Next time someone “suggests” going to the bathroom, ask them if they’d enjoy eating their meals in a stall while someone is doing their business in the one next door. I’m sure their answer would be no.
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