August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. It’s an opportunity to recognize the importance of breastfeeding and celebrate breastfeeding, while also considering the challenges still before us in ensuring all mothers can breastfeed if they choose. Unfortunately, too many nursing parents—particularly those who work in low wage jobs and mothers of color—are still being forced to choose between breastfeeding and earning a paycheck, oftentimes suffering negative health consequences as a result. Therefore, our workplace laws have an important role to play in promoting access to breastfeeding.
The U.S. is facing a maternal and infant health crisis—one that is disproportionately impacting Black women and women of color—as highlighted in a recent Congressional hearing. Although this problem and its solutions are multifaceted, one key piece to addressing this crisis is the need to ensure our workplaces are safe and supportive environments for pregnant workers and mothers. Unfortunately, the reality is that too many pregnant workers and new mothers are forced to risk their health at work—especially those women in low-wage and physically demanding jobs, who are largely women of color.
The PUMP Act will strengthen the 2010 Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law, extending the law’s protections to 9 million employees who are currently uncovered due to the law’s inclusion in the Fair Labor Standards Act, including nurses, teachers, and software engineers. The PUMP Act will also provide employers some additional clarity about employees who need to take breaks to express breastmilk for their babies.
This Black Breastfeeding Week, we were thrilled to sit down with Dr. Flora Ukoli, M.D., MPH., IBCLC. Dr. Ukoli is a Professor of Community Medicine at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, the first historically Black four-year medical school in the South. She is a World Health Organization Breastfeeding and Lactation Master Trainer, and has engaged in extensive Baby-Friendly breastfeeding promotion and advocacy in Nigeria and the United States.
While Jetaun was given a room to pump, the room was shared with another company, and a sign placed on the door was insufficient to ensure her privacy (which is often medically necessary for milk expression). At one point, a male employee entered without knocking while she was pumping. Jetaun was very upset by this violation of her privacy, and she brought the issue to a manager, to no avail.
Returning to work after having a child can be a big transition, especially if you are breastfeeding. Nursing parents need break time and space for pumping breast milk at work, and possibly other changes or accommodations to allow them to stay healthy and continue breastfeeding while doing their job.
Starting June 27, Kentucky women who are working while pregnant, recovering from childbirth, or who need to express breastmilk at work are protected under the law from discrimination. Kentucky law now gives workers an explicit right to reasonable pregnancy accommodations at work, so they can stay healthy and safe while continuing to earn a paycheck to support their family.
When she was around 6 months pregnant, she started inquiring about a private space where she would be able express breast milk, as she planned to breastfeed her child after giving birth. Her supervisors told her, “We’ll figure something out,” but never followed up with her.
“Talking to Your Boss About Your Pump,” is a state-by-state guide, created in partnership with WorkLife Law, that includes everything from practical tips for how to talk to your boss about breastfeeding accommodations to your legal protections to mapping out a plan for your needs at work.
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