PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau was one of a slew of experts testifying to the benefits of breastfeeding protections for working mothers and in support of a bill introduced by City Councilman David Oh that would strengthen the rights of nursing mothers at a hearing Monday afternoon.
The legislation, Bill No. 130922, would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for nursing mothers by providing both time and a sanitary, private location outside a bathroom to pump their breasts during the work day. As it stands, the Affordable Care Act has similar language. Oh’s bill would make the practice explicit for Philadelphia employers and covers places exempted by federal law.
The Fair Practices Ordinance as currently constructed protects against harassment or discrimination of nursing mothers in public spaces.
“Bill No. 130922 would make protections to breastfeeding women in employment explicit in the FPO [Fair Practices Ordinance], covering all employers in Philadelphia with one or more employees,” Landau said. “This addition to our law further would underscore Philadelphia’s commitment to employees and families here, an unwavering commitment to the total well-being of our workplaces and communities, particularly women.
“This is critical because many Philadelphia families rely on working women for their survival. Census data show that women remain the primary or co-breadwinners in 2 in 3 Philadelphia households – a tally that includes nursing mothers,” she added.
If the bill passes, PCHR would be charged with enforcing the measure.
Greater education would help diffuse much of the confrontation centering around breastfeeding at work, said Dr. Esther Chung, professor of pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College. She is also medical director of the Newborn Nursery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
Members of City Council’s law and government committee listened intently and engaged Landau, Chung, Amal Bass of the Women’s Law Project and the other presenters. A vote on the bill before the full City Council is expected shortly.
Numerous studies have hailed the physical benefits of breastfeeding. There is even literature on the economic benefits of the practice, particularly in the workplace. Nursed babies are less likely to get sick, meaning fewer missed days by their mothers and greater overall productivity.
Still, those facts run counter to lingering cultural misconceptions and existing discrimination. A recent photo of a mother nursing at her college graduation caused a furor on social media. And a Pennsylvania woman is suing behind the treatment she had endured at her job when she attempted to pump her breasts, which included harassment and being forced to express her milk in dirty, bug-infested environments.
That is despite federal and state law, and that many pediatricians recommend mothers engage in this cost-effective activity for a minimum of six months. Many don’t get past three months due to worries about treatment at work, Landau said. Needing to pump twice a day at work can be enough to raise the ire of co-workers and supervisors, and fears of getting fired.
Philadelphia, in fact, has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates of the nation’s 10 largest cities; it is also has the highest poverty rate of the nation’s 10 largest cities. For many, publicly bared breasts remain taboo.
“Some just don’t understand the concept,” Chung said. “They know you can pump gas for a car. But they don’t understand why women have to pump breasts.”
Many of the issues and controversies boil down to a simple fact, according to City Councilman Jim Kenney: “If men could have children, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.”