Laws guarantee your right to pump and breastfeed in public, but employers are also required to provide new mothers with breastfeeding accommodations.
By Jordan Burnham
It has the power to lower risk of obesity, chronic diseases and support a healthy immune system. It isn’t a magic detox tea; it’s breast milk and is produced by mothers throughout the world. Babies aren’t the only benefactors of breastfeeding; when a mom breastfeeds, her risk of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, hypertension and diabetes decreases. Following the passage of HB 541 this legislative session, there will be one less barrier for women breastfeeding in public in Texas.
The bill, which allows women to pump anywhere, will go into effect on Sept. 1. Before the passage of this bill, specific verbiage to protect women’s right to pump breast milk was nonexistent. One of the bill’s authors, Rep. Mary González (D-Clint), says breastfeeding activists helped her realize a gap in the law existed.
“All we did was make sure that all the spaces in which breastfeeding is available for women, pumping is also available to them as well,” González says.
Although González says there is still work to be done when it comes to mothers’ rights, she hopes the bill will create more consciousness about breastfeeding.
“I think that society is growing a lot to be more inclusive and understanding and supportive of mothers,” González says. “But there’s still a lot to do. And so, we do still hear stories and a variety of ways in which mothers are still discriminated against, and so, we always want to do what we can to support changing that reality.”
Although pumping in public is now legally guaranteed, Texas is still one of the 20 states that does not have a law exempting breastfeeding from public-indecency laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This means there is still ambiguity when it comes to a woman’s right to remain clothed or unclothed while pumping or feeding.
Katie Coyne, a certified lactation coach and co-owner of Stork Maternity Consulting, says mothers should never feel shame for nursing their babies in public or feel as if they can never leave the house with their babies.
“I just remind my patients you have the right,” Coyne says. “Anywhere you are allowed to be, you are allowed to nurse. You are allowed to pump [and] legally, you have the right to do it.”
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Position on Infant Feeding, the optimal method of feeding an infant is to exclusively breastfeed for the initial six months and then continue with breast milk for one to two years.
DSHS State Breastfeeding Coordinator Julie Stagg says returning to work is the leading reported reason working women stop breastfeeding. While one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in the breastfeeding process is returning to work, there are laws guaranteeing breastfeeding rights in the workplace.
Both federal and state laws provide regulations for work-site lactation that protect a woman’s rights when she returns to work. At the federal level, the Fair Labor Standards Act allowed for the creation of the Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision, which requires employers to offer break time for non-exempt employees for milk expression for one year after a child’s birth. Likewise, employers must have a location other than a bathroom that is protected from view of other employees for milk expression.
The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which was enacted by Congress in 1978, prevents employers from discriminating based on pregnancy or conditions related to childbirth, including breastfeeding and lactation.
At the state level, Texas Government Code 619 states public employers must have written policies for the expression of breast milk at the workplace. According to the code, “public employer” includes “a county, a municipality or another political subdivision of this state, including a school district; or a board, a commission, an office, a department or another agency in the executive, judicial or legislative branch of state government, including an institution of higher education.”
For businesses that go beyond the legally required standards for work-site lactation, Texas Mother-Friendly Worksite Program helps companies adopt breastfeeding policies in the workplace and currently recognizes 3,142 work sites in Texas that have met the criteria laid out in Texas Administrative Code and are considered “mother-friendly.”
According to the program’s website, the work sites must adopt a policy that allows for flexible work schedules with times for milk expression, access to a private area for milk expression that is not a bathroom, access to a water source and sink, and access to a storage area for storage of breast milk.
Coyne says she encourages mothers to prepare as early as they can for their return to work. First, she suggests having a discussion with an employer in order to find out what a break schedule for pumping or feeding will look like.
“The Texas WIC program has a great brochure on breastfeeding and returning to work that walks moms through some great steps if they feel uncomfortable talking to their employer,” she says.
Coyne also reminds mothers that having a lactation consultant can aid in overcoming many challenges breastfeeding brings. She says the Affordable Care Act of 2010 expanded health-insurance benefits to cover lactation services.
“If we can all just support moms, whether they breastfeed or bottle feed or pump, ultimately, that’s our goal,” Coyne says.
To get involved in breastfeeding advocacy, visit keepaustinbreastfeeding.com/mission.