Parents say that nothing turns your life upside down like having a baby. For breastfeeding moms, that can include interrupting your work day to pump. Seems like a reasonable accommodation, but the facts on the ground are super dispiriting.
Nursing researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looked through employment laws in the United States' 151 biggest cities to see which ones protect the rights of breastfeeding mothers. Just two, New York and Philadelphia, offer legal safeguards that are stronger than the provisions loosely outlined in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Not only that, but figuring out what your rights are regarding breastfeeding at work is complicated to the point of being inaccessible, even in the two protectionist cities.
Breastfeeding moms who are hourly employees at companies with more than 50 workers and annual earnings greater than $500,000 are permitted "reasonable break time" to pump milk in a non-bathroom location. Beyond that, moms are on their own and more or less at the mercy of their individual company policy. Moreover, a study released last month showed that more than half of breastfeeding mothers who returned to work gave up breastfeeding within one to six months. Support from colleagues (or lack thereof) played a huge role in that decision.
New moms are happiest when they return to a workplace that makes them feel both confident and integrated into the company, no matter how their requirements have changed. The Penn researchers suggest reaching out to local governments to institute or clarify laws that would do both. With luck, more conversation and awareness will get new mothers the support they need to simply do the work they want to do.