According to the CDC, 77 percent of mothers in the United States breastfeed. We breastfeed in hospitals and doctors’ offices, in our homes, at the park, and on outings. While running errands, I often breastfed my daughter in my car because it was the coziest place to nurse during the cold winter months following her birth. We would snuggle and bond in the front seat, heat blasting, listening to Coldplay.
But it isn’t always easy and snuggly. Breastfeeding can be difficult business. Take pumping, for example. Like many moms, I had to work outside of the home while I continued to nurse. And so, I got a pump, learned how to use it, and even got the hang of the whole milk-storage thing. But it was still very, very challenging. Finding the time, and an appropriate place to express milk, was nothing short of a miracle. I even remember pumping during the middle of a trial in a dingy courthouse bathroom and then walking back into court, carrying my briefcase full of pumped milk for my baby. I am Mommy lawyer – hear me roar!
Regardless of your personal choice to breastfeed or not, we all need to support one another as parents. And thankfully, recent changes in laws have begun to reflect a more supportive environment for breastfeeding mothers. Here’s what you need to know:
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes some federal regulations, in effect since 2010, regarding breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. Under the ACA, employers are required to provide reasonable break times for a breastfeeding mother to express milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth. Reasonable break times must be allowed each time the employee has need to express milk, but the employer need not compensate the employee for time spent doing so. Additionally, the employer must provide a location, other than a bathroom, for the nursing mom to express milk. There is an exception, so take note: An employer with fewer than fifty employees may be exempted if requirements impose an undue hardship on the employer.
In the event of a violation, you can file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor. And don’t be intimidated – there are safeguards in place to protect you against being fired or discriminated against for making the complaint.
Virginia also has some laws in place to protect breastfeeding mothers. First of all, if a breastfeeding mother gets called for jury duty, she shall be excused from service upon request. And in another legislative move supporting breastfeeding mothers, Virginia has also guaranteed mothers the right to nurse their babies on any property owned, leased, or controlled by the state. So, if you are at a public park, your right to breastfeed is protected by state law. Furthermore, breastfeeding mothers are legally exempted from indecent exposure laws. If your preference is to forgo a blanket while you are feeding your child at that public park, the law supports your choice, and exposing the breast or nipple while breastfeeding cannot result in a citation for indecent exposure.
Virginia has made some moves in support of breastfeeding, but more needs to be done. For instance, many states protect the right to breastfeed any place – private or public – and others prohibit anyone from trying to restrict or prevent a woman from breastfeeding. We are moving in the right direction, but let’s not lose the momentum. Contact your legislator to lend your voice to the discussion.