No More Pumping in the Bathroom: New Law Requires Private Nursing Space for Moms
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Lactivists, rejoice -- buried deep inside the much-debated health care reform bill is a legislation that means working moms may never have to pump their breast milk in the bathroom again.
The Detroit Free Press reports that the Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers legislation requires employers with 50 or more workers to give moms an on-site nursing space that is private -- plus, enough time to pump their milk.
While the "break" may be unpaid, it's a welcome relief for breast-feeding moms who sometimes pay a high price for keeping their newborns supplied with breast milk. Just ask LaNisa Allen, who was fired in August 2005, when she was "caught" pumping on the job at Totes/Isotoner.
The legislation is raising a lot of questions, too, because it leaves the law open to interpretation. Employers are uncertain as to their obligations: Are they required to build pumping time into daily working schedules? What exactly does a "private space" in which to nurse look like?Experts are looking to the U.S. Department if Labor to set guidelines and also are urging them to act fast. Dr. Rosemary Shy, co-chair of the Michigan Breastfeeding Network, tells the Free Press allowing moms to pump at work could have positive, long-term effects for mothers, children and businesses.
"The long-term health impact is huge," Shy tells the newspaper. "We know that most mothers who quit breast-feeding quit because they have to go back to work, and work makes no accommodations."
A study released earlier this month revealed that exclusive breast-feeding for at least the first six months of an infant's life significantly reduces the risk of serious health problems, including but not limited to diabetes and obesity. However, that study also shows that only 12 percent of moms follow that recommendation, and some experts claim that statistic could be the result of workplaces that aren't lactation-friendly.
The hope is that the new law will eliminate the need for moms to pump covertly and quickly in random bathroom stalls. Skeptics say the "one size fits all" law may cause compliance problems for employers who don't have a traditional office set-up, such as firms that employ truck drivers.
"It's going to be easy to comply if you're an office-based employer, and the employee's time at the job is 100 percent in the office," Wendy Block, director of health policy and human resources for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, tells the Free Press. "It's going to be tougher to accommodate an employee whose work is not entirely spent in the office."
Related: Breast is Best for College