Published on Mamava's Blog

Curious About Breastfeeding Law - Ask Kate

This week, we’re introducing Kate Frederick, a friend and breastfeeding activist from New Hampshire. We had Kate answer some incoming questions for us about breastfeeding laws and legislation. Read along for some great content – particularly for the new breastfeeding mama getting ready to return to work!

 As a nursing mom, what if my employer isn’t meeting the standards of the law? What recourse do I have? 

Dear Zoe,

If your employer isn’t meeting legal mandates you have multiple options to address the issue. I’d recommend you contact a few key people for help – a civil rights lawyer and a lactation consultant, then call a breastfeeding discrimination hotline – either mine with the Rustik Baby Project (603) 630-6382 or the Best for Babes at 1-800-nip-free. We have worked together in the past and help each other out. The goal will be to amicably resolve the issues, hopefully it’s a misunderstanding with your employer and/or the Human Resources department. First, you want to consult with those I just mentioned, document everything, and be prepared with resources and solutions to what you and your employer need. Keep notes and list the laws you think apply on the State and Federal levels for breastfeeding, pregnancy, and civil rights and list your employer’s policies too, (if there’s an employee handbook). Specifically you can look at their policy for requesting medical accommodations. A really good website with practical resources is Breastfeeding Support – Industry Solutions with the Office on Women’s Health, US DHHS . My site, for The Rustik Baby Project, is also a great resource for families and employers that need customized solutions and has links to helpful sites such as the US Breastfeeding Committee and Breastfeeding USA. 

What recourse do I have if I feel I’ve been wrongly terminated because of my status as a new mom/breastfeeding mom?  

Dear Krista,

First of all, you are not alone and there are sympathetic people willing to help you, but they usually are not at the agency you need to call to file a complaint. Second, I recommend you gather your emotional support from friends, family, former co-workers and women’s rights advocates, then contact a lawyer immediately. If you can’t find one, try to get a referral from your state’s American Civil Liberties Union. You can file for unemployment even though you were fired and you can contact your state’s Department of Labor and Human Rights Commission, the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the US Department of Labor. Keep in mind that there are multiple deadlines you will need to be aware of from each agency in order to file a complaint. Even better, ask the Human Rights Commission and/or a lawyer if your state will let you bypass filing a complaint with an agency and go straight to court for immediate action. You’ll want to ask specifically if you have the right to file for “injunctive relief.” You can also ask if you can file a lawsuit without having to wait for the agency to conduct their investigation. This is called filing a private cause of action. 

What can I do to influence my legislators to push for better family balance? 

Dear Pamela,

You’ll want to contact your local, state and Federal representatives. There are two great national organizations that can help you learn advocacy skills. 1. The National Partnership for Women and Families and 2. A Better Balance. They have links to other local resources as well. The real simple answer is, invite one of them out to coffee or go to one of their events and introduce yourself to them or their staff. Just be yourself and try to have a conversation. 

What bills to support breastfeeding are currently pending, and what can I do to support them? 

Dear Yolanda,

The best way to find this out is to contact your local and state breastfeeding coalitions by doing an easy Google search. For example, the NH Breastfeeding Rights Coalition has put forth two bills in New Hampshire, one for breastfeeding rights and one for workplace pregnancy accommodations. Their site is also tracking other relevant bills such as flexible workplace schedules and fair wages. These bills, like many others, have petitions you can sign, and are in need of many volunteers and people to give testimony at the hearings. It’s always helpful to donate funds, time, resources, and/or help with a fundraising effort.  

How can I work to pass even stronger protections for breastfeeding moms in my community? 

Dear Rita,

Besides state and Federal legislation, you can work on the county and town levels of government, as well as with businesses. For example, the town of Hopkington, NH voted to have their town employees get paid family leave. This is a great start and may help to lead the way to get state-wide family leave someday soon. As you know, paid family leave gives the breastfeeding family time to succeed with breastfeeding and have access to lactation help should they need it. International Mountain Equipment and the Community Center, both in North Conway, NH opened up Community Lactation Rooms that are private, clean, safe and free from intrusion, with a light, an electrical outlet, a comfy chair, and a sink, that is not in the bathroom. When businesses do this, it demonstrates their support for breastfeeding, as well as communicates to policy makers that there’s a clear need. Having business owners speak at town meetings is a great way to gather community support. 

Thanks for all your questions, I hope you will keep them coming!