Hearing showcases San Francisco’s leadership on support for working families

May 22, 2017

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors is considering an ordinance today that could make a big difference for many families by making a seemingly small change in the ways that employers accommodate nursing moms.

New mothers who keep breastfeeding after they return to work gain health benefits for themselves and their children. And most new moms want to nurse their babies, but many can’t because their workplaces make it challenging or even impossible to pump.

The Lactation in the Workplace ordinance, introduced in March by Supervisor Katy Tang with the support of Legal Aid at Work, aims to change that by requiring employers to provide a private place where lactating women can pump (that’s not a bathroom and that has electricity and a chair) and a safe way for them to store milk.

The San Francisco supervisors’ Land Use Committee is hearing comments on the ordinance today (and again in two weeks, on June 5). After the ordinance emerges from the committee, it goes to the full Board of Supervisors for a final vote. 

Through our organization’s Work and Family help line, I frequently hear from women who face terrible treatment when they try to keep breastfeeding after returning to work. Even more often, I talk to women who have no idea they have the right to pump at work or are too afraid to ask to exercise that right — especially low-wage workers who fear their employers will retaliate against them or even fire them for asking.

These challenges hit home for me a few months ago when I returned to work after maternity leave. Even with especially understanding colleagues, and a lactation room at our office, I struggled to figure out how to make pumping work.

Coming back to work is hard — with childcare worries, sleepless nights, and long commutes — and you miss your baby. There are a million things that new mothers have to juggle to get through the day. It’s amazing how powerful a comfortable lactation space and supportive employer can be to ease the transition. And then, after a long day apart, I love being able to go home and nurse my baby.

Katy Tang looks on as Julia Parish speaks, holding her son.
Julia Parish speaks on March 7, 2017, about San Francisco’s proposed Lactation in the Workplace ordinance, holding her son, as Supervisor Katy Tang looks on.

Breastfeeding decisions are personal, and a lot of factors weigh in. But no one should have to worry about things as simple as access to a clean, usable space to pump or negative consequences at work, just to feed her baby.

This ordinance will mean that workers in San Francisco won’t have to.

Julia Parish, a staff attorney with Legal Aid at Work, which directs the Healthy Mothers Workplace Coalition, has helped draft several pieces of path-breaking legislation to support working families in California. 

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