Hundreds are expected to participate in the Nationwide Nurse-In on Friday, April 26 at capitol building grounds throughout the United States.
The Fifth Annual Nationwide Nurse-In brings attention to breastfeeding laws and legislation. Participants aim to end discrimination and harassment associated with public breastfeeding and promote the workplace and facilities needs of breast-pumping mothers.
Breastfeeding and breast-pumping families and their allies will feed their babies and spread the word about the laws that protect them and legislation in the works.
The 2019 event brings attention to both long-held and newly-enacted laws.
This fall, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth’s (D-IL) legislation to provide nursing mothers traveling through large and medium-sized airports access to private, clean and accessible lactation rooms was signed into law. Duckworth released the following statement:
“This bipartisan bill will help moms and their children find clean and accessible spaces to express breastmilk during travel,” said Senator Duckworth. “Breastfeeding has long-lasting health benefits that protect mothers and children from illnesses, and I’m pleased this legislation received overwhelming support from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”
In addition, Senator Duckworth joined U.S. Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in introducing the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act on February 20, 2019. This bipartisan act would help ensure new parents have access to clean and private lactation rooms when visiting federal buildings around the nation.
Forty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed laws that protect a mother’s right to breastfeed her child anywhere she is lawfully present.
Idaho added its first breastfeeding protection last year. State lawmakers approved an amendment of the Idaho code on indecency and obscenity to exempt “the breastfeeding of a child or the expression of breast milk for the purpose of feeding a child”. Michigan added a similar exemption last year as well.
New Jersey added two new breastfeeding and breast-pumping laws in 2018. One makes it an unlawful employment practice to discriminate based on pregnancy or breastfeeding in compensation or financial terms of employment, and the other exempts breast pumps, breast-pump repair and replacement parts, breast-pump collection and storage supplies and certain breast-pump kits from sales tax.
In spite of these laws, breastfeeding and breast-pumping protections are routinely violated.
Lucy Mills of Cedar Rapids, Iowa works with breastfeeding mothers in her role as a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor. “Even though there are laws protecting mothers from being discriminated against in the workplace and all 50 states allow women to nurse their children in public, we are intimidated by heavy societal pressures,” Mills states. “Breastfeeding is so important for the health of mothers and babies, but without support, families are strained. More acceptance and prompt enforcement of the laws will pave the way to improving the nation’s health.”
Last month, a Huntsville, Alabama mother was escorted from a waiting room of Huntsville Hospital for breastfeeding her four-month-old baby. The mother, Ariana Elders, was there to get her older son checked out when she was taken to a private room by a hospital security guard. The hospital has since apologized.
Katie Hudson of Northern Virginia was battling with postpartum depression when she was harassed for breastfeeding her infant. She was at a café inside a department store when a gentleman muttered to her, “Put your boob away; no one needs to see that!” Katie recalls, “I was so embarrassed. Luckily for me another mom with a slightly older kid came to my defense and told the man, ‘how dare you shame her!’”
Indiana mother Katrina Culhane was recently fired from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). Indiana state law requires that state and political agencies give lactating employees paid breaks to pump and make reasonable effort to provide a room or location other than a bathroom, as well as a refrigerator to keep breastmilk cold. Yet the BMV failed to provide accommodations.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employers in the United States provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” Employers must also provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” This law protects mothers who are non-exempt. All employees who do not meet these criteria, including teachers, are either unprotected or must look to state laws for protection.
Only thirty states have workplace pumping laws enacted, and even fewer have laws that provide adequate protections. The Nationwide Nurse-In advocates for the remaining states to bring forth legislation to protect their breast-pumping families.
The Office on Women’s Health affirms breastfeeding law. “You have the right to breastfeed your baby wherever and whenever your baby is hungry. There are laws that protect breastfeeding mothers.” The Office offers the following tip to mothers should they be criticized for breastfeeding in public: “[R]emember that the law protects your right to feed your baby any place you need to. You do not need to respond to anyone who criticizes you for breastfeeding. If you feel in danger, move away from the person criticizing you and look for people who can support you.”
Allies of breastfeeding families will be in attendance nationwide, including friends, family members, and co-workers. Elyse Tooley of Apex, North Carolina offers her support: “I’m not a mom and plan on keeping it that way, but I love my friends’ kids and seeing how they have this bond isn’t something I have words for. I want moms everywhere to be able to have this bond and make it stronger. Breastfeeding seems to do that, so you all have my total support and admiration!”
Breastfeeding law awareness has made a difference in the life of Northern Virginia mother Hilary Hultman-Lee. “I did not know about the laws protecting breastfeeding parents when I had my first child,” Hultman-Lee stated. “Concerns about being harassed made me anxious to nurse in public. Now that I am nursing my second child, I feel much more confident to breastfeed in public, knowing that I have the law on my side.” Hultman-Lee sums up the goal of the nurse-in with this assertion: “I want all first-time parents to feel that confidence so they can focus on connecting with their baby.”