It’s no secret America lags behind other industrialized countries when it comes to accommodating new moms who are juggling parenthood and a career. For example, we’re still the only nation in the developed world that doesn’t require paid leave for new moms. And according to a discouraging (and infuriating) new report, breastfeeding moms face workplace discrimination when they pump and breastfeed during the workday — even if they’re supposedly covered by the Fair Labor Standard Act’s Break Time for Nursing Mothers law.
The study, published by the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, found that not only are new moms denied reasonable accommodations to breastfeed, but a staggering two-thirds of women who filed discrimination cases over the past 10 years ultimately lost their jobs because they were either fired or forced to resign.
— Research on Women (@researchonwomen) January 30, 2019
According to the report, breastfeeding discrimination comes in a variety of forms: refusing to provide adequate privacy for women who need to pump, sexual harassment from other employees commenting on new moms’ breasts and denying breaks even when women are in physical pain and leaking milk. The Break Time for Nursing Mothers law requires that employees be given 15- to 20-minute breaks to pump in a clean, private space and temporary reassignment if necessary.
But in far too many workplaces, this isn’t happening — for example, a police officer who was interviewed for the study said her employer refused to temporarily reassign her to desk work when she couldn’t wear a bulletproof vest.
As a result of the discrimination, many new moms reported weaning sooner than their doctors recommended, which poses health risks, such as infections. But researchers said they were most shocked by the economic consequences. In addition to the women who lost their jobs, another three-quarters of breastfeeding moms took an economic hit when they were forced to work reduced hours or go unpaid for their 15-minute breastfeeding breaks.
Liz Morris, a coauthor of the report, compared the impact of breastfeeding discrimination to that of workplace sexual harassment. “The thing breastfeeding discrimination has in common with sexual harassment and pay inequity is that it jeopardizes women’s economic security,” Morris said. “Women are literally losing their jobs over feeding their babies, and job loss can have harsh economic consequences for years to come in the same way sexual harassment and unequal pay can have harsh economic consequences for women.”
As reported by Motherly, another major issue is that the Break Time for Working Mothers law contains loopholes that leave many workers unprotected. This is because the law was passed as an amendment to another law pertaining to overtime pay. So, in addition to paid family leave, it’s also time to fight for breastfeeding rights for every new mom in America.