August is National Breastfeeding Month, an opportunity to recognize and celebrate breastfeeding. 2022’s theme is “Together we do great things,” a reminder of the power we can build in working alongside partners, advocates, workers, and impacted communities to advance justice for new parents as they balance their health needs on the job, including breastfeeding on their own terms.
This year, amidst systemic barriers such as the nationwide formula shortage and the disheartening lack of federal protections for pregnant and postpartum workers, new parents are urgently counting on policy action to help protect their health and economic security: for breastfeeding parents, millions of whom are excluded from the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act due to gaps in the law, access to the accommodations needed to express milk on the job is key in ensuring they can remain healthy without risking their paycheck. Lack of access to these vital accommodations disproportionately impacts women of color in low-wage positions, emphasizing the critical role workplace supports such as the PUMP (Providing Urgent Maternal Protections) for Nursing Mothers Act plays in advancing racial, gender, and economic justice. We also understand the importance of ensuring workers living in states and localities with lactation protections in effect are equipped with the knowledge they need to exercise their workplace rights.
In a report we released this spring alongside our partners at Black Mamas Matter Alliance, “Centering the Experiences of Black Mamas in the Workplace: How The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Can Support Black Maternal Health,” we draw from the lived expertise of Black birth workers and organizational leaders to show how the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, another key piece of legislation would support Black breastfeeding workers in particular by ensuring they can get reasonable accommodations when pregnant and postpartum, including break time and space to express milk at work. As Tanay Harris of Mommy Up Maryland said during the listening session, “The biggest thing has really been the mental health component of it which is really where things have been compromised. You feel inadequate, or folks who did just have a child, and you’re looking at breastfeeding, chest feeding, body feeding, and you’re like I’m just going to give it up. Then you get angry at yourself, because you had to give it up.” No worker should be put into that position, and with Black Breastfeeding Week falling in the final week of National Breastfeeding Month, we remain committed to highlighting the disparities and injustice faced by Black workers in particular in accessing the accommodations necessary to breastfeed on their own terms.
As ABB Senior Policy Counsel Sarah Brafman recently told Marketwatch for an article on the need for protections for breastfeeding workers, “We are putting women in impossible situations, where people are being forced to choose between continuing to express milk, or continuing to work, because the working environment is not conducive to both.” The last thing new parents who choose to breastfeed should have to worry about is choosing between their economic security and their ability to express milk as needed, and Congress has the opportunity to put an end to this mistreatment – right now, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is ready for a vote on the Senate floor, and has enough support to pass. The Senate has the chance to make these protections a reality for pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding workers nationwide, and this National Breastfeeding Month, we are calling on our lawmakers to take action and pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act as soon as possible.