Lactation Accommodations: A Right, Not a Privilege

May 13. 2018
Maha Ibrahim

Pumping is an annoying and laborious task. As a new mom of 5 month-old baby Raymond, I am well acquainted with this fact. After three lactation consultants, countless specialists’ and doctors’ visits, a bleary-eyed lifetime of internet searches, book research, chortling tears and just plain asking other moms, my baby Ray is no latcher. He hasn’t once successfully fed at my breast, yet I have been able to feed him breastmilk, because I pump.

Because my baby doesn’t latch, I have to pump 5-7 times a day. My case is extreme, but all breastfeeding moms must pump when they return to work, usually at least two or three times a day. It is the only way for other caretakers to feed babies breastmilk while moms work, and it is the only way for moms to retain their milk supply. (Breastmilk is a supply and demand arrangement. If you don’t pump or feed a baby at regular intervals throughout the day every day, your milk goes away. Poof.)

At ERA, we don’t just relish in our own women-friendly workplace; We fight like hell every day in the courts and in the halls of legislatures because we want all women and families to have common sense rights that are humane and, frankly, good for business.

While I was on maternity leave, it was incredibly hard to pump as many times as I needed to during the day to build and keep my supply and feed my baby. I always had a baby in my arms, and pumping and baby holding are incompatible. Because I am a women’s rights lawyer, I knew how privileged I was when I told fellow new moms that I would be relieved to return to work because I knew it would be so much easier for me to pump at the office than it was for me to pump at home.

I have that privilege, because my employer understands the math of breastfeeding, values women and families, and gives me time and privacy to pump. But we live in a country where most laws were made by many people over hundreds of years who neither knew nor cared to learn about motherhood. The tedious labor of love and necessity that is pumping has been treated like a selfish or irrational employee request.

Currently, Equal Rights Advocates represents a worker who completely lost her milk supply and could no longer breastfeed her baby because her employer would not allow her to pump during a several-days-long mandatory training. Even in the very white collar field of legal work, I have many lawyer colleagues who have spent hours in parking lots pumping in their cars during long days of representing their clients in court, because California courts do not have lactation accommodations. Pumping in their parked cars means pumping in broad daylight while judges, opposing counsel, court staff, and others walk by. It also means a lot of time spent coming and going from the courthouse – when given a 15 minute recess, it usually takes five to ten minutes for the lawyer to get out to her car, and getting back in through security might take longer. So, the attorneys also have to worry about rushing to not miss court, which would not happen if there was a conveniently located lactation room.

At ERA, we don’t just relish in our own women-friendly workplace; We fight like hell every day in the courts and in the halls of legislatures because we want all women and families to have common sense rights that are humane and, frankly, good for business. That is why we are proud to support CA SB 937 (Wiener & Levya). If passed, this bill would be the most comprehensive lactation accommodation law in the United States. It would create minimum standards for lactation accommodation spaces, require employers to have written lactation policies, require the creation of lactation accommodation best practices in our state, and ensure that employees receive information about their rights to a safe and comfortable lactation space at work.

This Mother’s Day, we salute all mothers: the new and terrified, and the seasoned (and maybe still terrified). You are all badasses in our book, and we will continue to fight to get laws on the books to get you the rights you deserve at work.

For more information on SB 937, see our Stronger California Campaign website.

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