A Baltimore City Councilwoman introduced legislation Monday designed to improve lactation accommodations and ease new mothers’ transitions back into the workplace.
Councilwoman Shannon Sneed — who often brings her young daughter to public hearings and council meetings — said all working mothers “deserve the ability to lactate if they return to work by choice or by necessity.” Mothers, she said, shouldn’t have to choose between their careers and their child’s wellness.
When her daughter was born, Sneed had an office in City Hall she could use to pump, “but a lot of women don’t have that,” she said.
The proposed policy outlines higher standards for lactation spaces, which most employers already are required to provide under federal law. Sneed’s legislation calls for lactation spaces to be in “close proximity” to a new mother’s work space, have a door that can be locked from the inside and be equipped with a flat surface where a woman can put a breast pump or other personal items.
The space also must have a place to sit, an electrical outlet and a refrigerator where an employee can store breast milk.
The requirements build on federal statutes, which state that employers must provide a “clean, private space, other than a bathroom, for employees to express milk for their infants up to one year after each child’s birth.”
Sneed held a press conference Monday afternoon with representatives from The Family League of Baltimore, local union members and Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen to discuss the legislation further.
Wen said research shows that breastfeeding “is best for the mother and child,” because it provides the baby’s first immunizations, reduces infant mortality and helps build emotional bonds.
“As a mother to an 11-month-old, I also know how hard breastfeeding can be, and how challenging it is to keep nursing while working full-time,” she said in a statement.
The proposed policy also would codify employees’ ability to request additional time for pumping. The time may be unpaid, outside of lunch breaks.
A 2016 Centers for Disease Control report found that roughly 23 percent of Maryland women exclusively breastfed their babies until they were six months old, which is the recommended time period. The agency also found that a woman’s intention to work full-time is associated significantly with lower rates of initiating and maintaining breastfeeding. Low-income, minority women are also more likely to return to work earlier and encounter additional challenges with continued breast feeding, according to the CDC.
Sneed said she’s talked with many mothers who are excited to testify in favor of the legislation. She’s also talked with some small businesses, she said, and hasn’t gotten any pushback from them.
“For a small business — and I’m thinking of the mom-and-pops in my district — I’m not saying you have to build an office for a mom to pump, but giving them a safe and clean space to do it,” she said.
The legislation makes some exceptions. An employer could apply for a waiver if they can demonstrate that complying with the legislation would cause a “significant expense or operational difficulty.”
An employer also would be allowed to provide a lactation space that’s used for other purposes as long as the location’s primary function is a lactation room and a breastfeeding mother’s needs take precedence over other uses. The legislation would allow for lactation spaces to be shared by multiple building tenants in certain circumstances.
Employers also would need to develop a written lactation accommodation policy and distribute it to all employees. The legislation states that employers who don’t comply with the required lactation accommodations would be subject to a fine of up to $500.