Have you ever had to hide in a bathroom at work, balancing your breast pump, trying hard to make sure you keep everything clean and trying to time your schedule so you can pump when you need to? If so, you’re not alone!
If you’ve ever nursed a baby while working outside the home, odds are good that you’ve struggled with finding time at work to pump or a place that’s private, clean and safe to express milk for your baby. Returning to an unsupportive work environment has been identified as a major reason women avoid starting nursing or abandon it early. Fortunately, nursing moms are about to get a little help thanks to a little known provision in the new health care reform act.
This provision will guarantee many nursing moms the right to express milk at work. It allows nursing moms to take a break every time they need to express breast milk and requires employers to provide a private location, other than a bathroom, to pump. This new law provides protections to those women who need it most - hourly workers, including those who work in retail, factories, and restaurants and call centers, who often have the most difficult time taking needed breaks and finding clean, safe spaces to pump.
This is a critical step forward for mothers in the workplace. Most female workers in this country and in North Carolina have to return immediately to work after giving birth because they don't have access to any paid family leave or cannot afford to take the unpaid, job-protected leave that the Family Medical Leave Act provides. Or they are one of the many women who aren't even covered by FMLA. In fact, there is no federal or state law that guarantees new mothers paid time off to be with their newborn children and nurse them at home.
For many women, returning to work is not a choice but a necessity. For the first time in our nation’s history, women comprise the majority of the workforce and are the primary breadwinners in nearly four out of 10 American families. The fastest growing segment of the workforce is women with children under 3! As our workforce changes, our workplace polices need to change to reflect the realities of today’s worker.
The decision to breastfeed is a very personal choice and not one that should be predetermined by where a mother works. We must continue to work to remove the barriers in our workplaces that prevent women who desire to breastfeed their children from doing so effectively, and we must convince our legislators that North Carolinians --- both women and men --- want to see laws that let them fulfill their work responsibilities without giving short shrift to their families.
At MomsRising, we support paid sick days, expanded family medical leave including maternity leave, the right to request flexible work arrangements, and pay equity. North Carolina prides itself on family values. This starts with valuing our families and supporting policies parents deserve to reach their full potential as parents and as employees. We hope you’ll join us!
Beth Messersmith is a Durham mom of two and member of the North Carolina chapter of MomsRising. To learn more, go to momsrising.org.