By Liz Chang
Bilingual English and Spanish Certified Lactation Counselor
Founder and CEO at Pretty Mama Breastfeeding LLC
As an specialist that have researched the topic, I’m going to try to lay it out for you so you know a little bit more about what you have going for you. There are only a few specific sources of protection that parents and breastfeeding women have in their pockets:
The first is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act from title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It basically states that discrimination based on pregnancy is illegal sex discrimination. Courts have sadly used this position to rule both ways, to support and encourage pregnant women in the workplace as well as to deny protection for breastfeeding women due to the fact that pregnancy is a choice as is breastfeeding and it is not a ‘medical need’ or a disability in need of protection.
- The second is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. This is what gives the up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for pregnancy, childbirth, as well as care of ill children. This only applies to employers with 50+ employees and is only unpaid leave which the majority of employees cannot afford. Even though the World Health Organization among others supports the fact that “exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond” (WHO, Breastfeeding) only this meager 12 weeks is offered to initiate this justifiable right of mothers.
- The third is the Affordable Care Act’s Fair Labor Standards Act amended in 2010. It affords women the right to breastfeed or pump/express in the workplace with privacy and somewhere other than a bathroom. (The latter should go without saying!) Women are afforded this protection for the first year after a child is born. This also only applies to employers with 50+ employees, and each employee must meet the definition of a FLSA covered employee.
Do you want to see specific regulations about breastfeeding in your state? Visit National Conference for State Legislation Breastfeeding Laws.
Does the U.S. fall short?
Why does it seem that we are falling short where we claim to have the highest value? According to recent polls, family is one of the most important topics to Americans. The problem isn’t with priorities; I feel it’s with perspectives. While we lump policies and laws together into sexual equality and antidiscrimination frameworks we won’t have any grounds for enforcement provisions that will hold up legally. Our society sees these issues through a medical model lens instead of a family perspective lens.
Because breastfeeding and childbearing are not seen as a medical “need”, new mothers and breastfeeding mothers do not get the protection they need, and these policies fall to the wayside. Until we align the incentives of young families with economic incentives of the workplace I fear there will be no change in the protection for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Seeing that breastfeeding and childbearing are integral to a strong society may be necessary to produce policy outcomes that will make the difference for every mother, not just that small percentage that qualify.
Eichner, Maxine. International Breastfeeding Journal. Parenting in the workplace. 2008.
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