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.
At A Better Balance, we hear from hundreds of workers every year who call our free legal hotline to understand their workplace rights surrounding pregnancy, parenting, sick leave, family and medical leave, and more. When workers call us because they believe their rights have been violated, the best outcomes are those in which we are able to help them resolve the issue on their own, armed with information about the law. One caller, Natalie, whose name has been changed to protect confidentiality, did just that.
Natalie worked in New York City in a corporate setting with an open floor plan. There were a few separate offices within her office, all with large, see-through glass panels. 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.
As her due date drew nearer, Natalie worried that she still had no designated pumping space. She asked again, in the last two weeks of her pregnancy, to ensure that a pumping space would be set up for her upon returning from maternity leave. She finally received a response, but it was not a satisfactory one. “The HR manager told me that I would have to use whatever glass office is available when I needed to pump and I could use a cover-up sheet to cover myself with,” Natalie told us. “I didn’t think it was appropriate.”
At that point Natalie called A Better Balance, and we informed her about her rights under the New York Labor Law, as well as the New York City Human Rights Law, to a clean, private space in which to express breast milk at work.
Using the information we shared with her, Natalie quickly took action. “I sent my employer a very polite email using a line from the law. They responded promptly and accommodated me straight away by putting up a curtain and a lock in the small office and posting my pumping times there. I couldn’t have asked for better! Now [my] baby is 6 months old and is still breastfed. Thank you, A Better Balance!”
We couldn’t have asked for better either. If you have questions about your workplace rights, do not hesitate to call us at 1-833-NEED-ABB.