In an effort to make breastfeeding more plausible for working mothers, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study that investigated just how many cities in the US have laws in place to protect women who breastfeed in the workplace. And unfortunately for new moms, the numbers aren't exactly in their favour.
Diane Spatz, a perinatal nursing and nutrition professor in the School of Nursing and lactation program director at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, examined 151 of the largest cities across the US and found that only New York City and Philadelphia have laws that protect nursing women.
"The law only requires that employers offer 'reasonable break time' and a place that's not the bathroom for expressing human milk," according to Science Daily. "Plus, its reach is limited, covering only hourly employees at companies with 50 or more workers and annual company earnings of $500,000 or more."
Diane agreed that while having a federal law in place is a good starting point, many women still don't meet the qualifications to be covered: "Someone salaried would not be covered by the law. If a company has fewer than 50 employees, it doesn't apply," she said. "All the law says is you need to be given time and space. Clearly, there are much better opportunities for women."
"Right now in the US, if a mom wants to be a breastfeeding mom and a working breastfeeding mom, really all of the onus is on her to figure it out."
Elizabeth Froh, who is part of CHOP's Centre for Pediatric Nursing Research & Evidence-Based Practice and an adjunct assistant professor in Penn Nursing, suggests that implementing breastfeeding laws that protect women at work at the city-level would be hugely beneficial for moms.
"You can easily access information about legal protections for breastfeeding moms on a federal and state level. But it's a challenge to get at the city-level legislation," explained Elizabeth. "It was surprising to all of us how difficult and inaccessible this information truly was."
And given how many women hold down full-time jobs, Elizabeth believes this type of legislation should be introduced at the city level as soon as possible.
"People have been asking us why we did this," said Elizabeth. "Well, 56 percent of the workforce in the United States is now women. With all of the limitations of the federal law, there is a huge segment of the working population that isn't covered. We see this as a social justice issue and a public health issue. This one study, looking at what is out there currently, is just a starting point."
Given how beneficial nursing is for infants, being able to pump and store breast milk at work shouldn't be a huge feat. "Right now in the US, if a mom wants to be a breastfeeding mom and a working breastfeeding mom, really all of the onus is on her to figure it out," said Diane. "She's got to be pretty determined."
Researchers are hoping that the study's findings lead to more major cities implementing laws that provide greater protections to nursing mothers.
"The stronger the city-level legislation becomes across the board, the more cities that do it, the easier it is for the state to pass one," said Elizabeth. "If more states do it, it becomes that much easier for a federal law to pass. This is really where a grassroots effort could make an impactful difference."