By Jennifer Werdell
It’s World Breastfeeding Week! While I probably would not have known that before I started volunteering with Legal Voice, I am grateful to take this opportunity to reflect on how privileged I am – to be a mother to two beautiful and healthy children, to live in a place where my children have access to nutritious food every day, and to work in an environment where breastfeeding mothers are provided with the flexibility and resources to be able to continue to feed their babies after they go back to work.
I am not going to lie – I didn’t like breastfeeding, and I truly hated pumping at work. But I was grateful that breastfeeding was an option for me and that I was able to exercise my right to do so. Yet, even in 2015, a supportive culture for breastfeeding is surprisingly absent in many places, even within our own community. Whether it is a prospective politician calling a working mom “disgusting” for pumping milk or an employer refusing to allow an employee break time to breastfeed or pump, women continually find themselves in a no-win situation. Many will be judged for their decision or inability to breastfeed; many others will be chastised for doing so.
So, Washington mamas, during this national and global week of breastfeeding awareness, here is a friendly reminder that the law is on your side! You have the right to breastfeed in any public place and you cannot be discriminated against (or called out as indecent) if you chose to breastfeed your child in public. Need to breastfeed or pump at work? Federal law requires employers with over 50 employees to give moms a reasonable break time when they need to express breast milk for an infant (feeding directly or pumping), and employers must provide a clean and private place for expressing breast milk. And, by the way, no, it does not count if you are given the ‘privilege’ of sitting on a toilet in a bathroom to do so! State law also encourages employers to create policies that support breastfeeding in the workplace, like allowing flexible work schedules and providing a place to refrigerate breast milk and a way for you to clean your breastfeeding supplies.
Talk to your employers if you are not getting the support you need to breastfeed; if you need help, check out Legal Voice's memo Breastfeeding in Washington State and resources from other great organizations. Happy breastfeeding!
Jennifer Werdell is the Associate Director of Seattle University School of Law’s Access to Justice Institute. She has been participating with Legal Voice’s Self Help Committee since 2012.
Photo courtesy of Jem Grismshaw | Daily Cloudt