Breastfeeding an infant is best for both the infant and mother — but when that mother is working, attempting to breastfeed and asking for accommodations too often ends with a pink slip.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which covers many employees in the United States, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) both give nursing mothers who work the right to ask employers for a place to express their milk and the right to reasonable break times to do it for a full year after giving birth. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is also used to prevent employers from retaliating against nursing mothers who request accommodations. However, all of those laws pieced together still leave more than 9 million women without legal protection when they nurse.
Women are suffering as a result. A recent study that looked into the ramifications of breastfeeding discrimination in the workplace was enlightening — and distressing. Researchers discovered that women still frequently experience discrimination even when they do have some kind of legal protections in place, especially in male-dominated fields. Those women face a myriad of health problems as a result, including painful infections and stress. Most end up weaning their infants early, which can also be harmful to the baby’s development.
In addition to the physical issues, however, nursing mothers often suffer economically. Two-thirds of women who end up filing discrimination complaints over nursing rights have lost their jobs. Some were forced to choose between their job and feeding their child, while others were outright fired. Three-quarters of nursing women also are either forced to go without pay during their lactation breaks or are obliged to work reduced hours while they’re nursing.
Discrimination against nursing mothers isn’t good for anyone — not the women who experience it and certainly not their children. However, bad habits among employers are hard to break unless someone is willing to take a stand and file a discrimination lawsuit that has the potential to change the workplace for the better.