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Pointless Laws Simply Pay Lip Service to Breastfeeding Moms

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

There has been a lot of positive movement in the United States in the last year or two in regards to more firmly establishing and protecting the rights of breastfeeding mothes. There were more than half a dozen laws passed this past year that specificly protected the right of a mother to nurse her baby in any public location. Still more states added laws guaranteeing moms the right to pump milk at work and a few others gave breastfeeding moms a pass from jury duty.

That said, there are also some fairly toothless laws out there that might as well include the whiney voice-over that says "well geeeeeeeee.....maaaaaaaaaybe you could" as a predecessor to the text of the law.

Case in point? Oklahoma. Tulsa World has an article about a mom that ended up leaving her job because her boss simply would not allow her the time she needed to express milk during the day. While Oklahoma has a law on the books regarding this issue, it's a pretty lame one.

Barnett didn't have enough breast milk for her daughter as a result of being unable to pump at work.

She said her boss wouldn't give her additional breaks.

"I didn't want to have conflict and lose my job, so I wouldn't say anything, and Delainey suffered," she said.

A law that took effect this week addresses the problem, but it doesn't solve it. The law says employers "may provide reasonable unpaid break time" for an employee to breastfeed or pump breast milk, but it doesn't require it.

It says employers "shall make a reasonable effort" to give employees a clean place not far from the workplace -- that's not a toilet stall -- to breastfeed or pump breast milk.

"May provide?" Note the different between "May provide" and "MUST provide?"

I wonder if Oklahoma takes the time to pass laws that says things like "Should not rob" rather than "May not rob..."?

According to the article, Barnett was giving a single one hour break during an 11 hour shift. Any nursing mom knows that you have to pump more than once in 11 hours to be able to maintain a supply. (Or you're going to have to nurse every hour or two overnight and get baby to flip their days and nights...of course that only works if you have a baby that sleeps 12 hours at night...)

So what's up with this law? Well, apparently even the sponsor realizes now that it may not really have accomplished much...

State Rep. Dale DePue, R-Edmond, wrote the bill that became Oklahoma's law on breastfeeding and the workplace. He wanted to take on the issue but didn't want to force employers to do anything they couldn't afford or provide.

"We're trying to get employers thinking about this, but we just didn't make it real tough," he said. "Maybe it will have to come to that."

Hmm...once again, it's kinda like saying to the bully on the playground "Umm..could you maybe stop punching that kid in the face?....No? Ok...well, it's your choice, but I'd like you to think about it."

Yeah...THAT'S gonna work...

Now I'm not a fan of the government stepping in and telling people what they need to do in their private business. In fact, I generally oppose those types of laws...I don't believe in requiring the smallest of small businesses to build or otherwise outfit a specific room for moms to pump in...after all, some small businesses simply could NOT afford to do so. It goes beyond reasonable, though it SHOULD be something that any good business owner is willing to do to keep a good employee. (Even if it's just letting them use the boss's office for a bit each day...)

That said, giving someone two or three 20 minute breaks a day, or allowing them to work an hour longer in order to GAIN some break time during the day? That's really not going to kill anyone's business. In fact, I'd argue that it's going to make mom even MORE productive during the rest of the day because she has the peace of mind that she gains from being able to continue giving her child that liquid gold.

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  1. Anonymous jaime | 7:35 PM |  

    I agree. I am a new mom of a 2 month old baby. I was supposed to go back to work a couple of weeks ago. I had an 8 week maternity leave because I was not covered under the family medical leave act. My baby was having extreme difficulties transitioning to a bottle. I asked for additional time and the agency did not give it to me. I lost my job because i was unable to return to work while still breastfeeding. It is really difficult because you want to do the very best for your child and then something like this comes up and you are not supported by any laws. I wish that there was a better understanding and more value on children in our society. It is really sad that you have to worry about losing your job if you are a pregnant working woman.

  2. Anonymous Anonymous | 9:12 PM |  

    I disagree. Not all jobs are conducive. Specifically RN's working a 12 hour schedule. It is great that management will allow uncompensated time for my coworker to pump milk, but it is highly unfair when I am the one who has to cover double the patient load 3 hours out of my shift, patient load of 11 on an intense floor. The working mother thinks this is a reasonable accomodation. I think this is a reason to refuse to be her cover person, and if so, who will be hired to cover her lapses from the job? Who should have to pay the extra cost? What right does this nursing mother have to inconvenience and burden her coworkers?

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