Breastfeeding has health advantages for the baby and for the lactating parent. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants should be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months, and now supports continued breastfeeding up to 2 years and beyond. However, many parents are forced to choose between breastfeeding and their career. In 2018, the CDC reported that 90.3% of babies were breastfed in California, but only 28.2% of babies were exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Babies that are breastfed are less likely to develop asthma or suffer from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Additionally, lactating parents reduce their risk of getting ovarian or breast cancer.
Not to mention, baby formula is expensive. The Surgeon General reported that families could save $1,200-$1,500 annually if they followed optimal breastfeeding practices. More recently, the nationwide baby formula shortage has only exacerbated these impacts. Some parents who are unable to access formula are resorting to feeding their babies cow milk even though according to the CDC, cow’s milk does not have the right amount of nutrients for babies, has too many proteins and minerals for their kidneys to handle, and in some cases, may lead to intestinal blood loss. In short, parents are facing many barriers to breastfeeding regardless of their preference.
One of the biggest obstacles that new parents face is the lack of support from their employer postpartum. To-Wen reached out to Legal Aid at Work because she was being harassed by her co-workers and her supervisor for expressing milk at work. When she complained, her supervisor told her to use formula. Charnae asked for lactation accommodations, but in response her supervisor cut her hours and told to rethink her career.
Lactation accommodations benefit both employees and employers. Breastfeeding results in employees taking less time off to take care of sick children, increasing productivity. Furthermore, according to a report in the journal of pediatrics cited by the Office of the Surgeon General, if 90% of families in the U.S. exclusively breastfed, then the U.S. would annually save $13 billion in medical expenses.
Both federal and California laws require employers to provide break time and a space to express milk that is not a bathroom, and prohibit discrimination and harassment because of breastfeeding. California law was recently amended to also require: a space that is clean with a surface to place a breast pump, access to electricity and a sink with running water, a place to sit, and access to refrigeration.
To-Wen and Charnae had horrible experiences trying to access their rights to lactation accommodations at work, and they fought for policy changes so that it would not happen to others. Breastfeeding awareness month is also a great time for employees to learn about their rights to lactation accommodations at work in California. Folks can call the Work and Family helpline at Legal Aid at Work, 800-880-8047, for free advice about lactation rights in the workplace.
*Gabriela Posada is a law clerk with Legal Aid at Work.