Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Are any of you into the Super Bowl? Admittedly, I view it more as an opportunity to chat with friends over a cup of tea while our husbands watch the game. And of course, I watch the halftime show. I was feeling old since I was more into the Red Hot Chili Peppers than Bruno Mars — and I had no idea that Mars was that young! What were the highlights for you?

Here’s a shocker: I was sad to learn that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died yesterday at the age of 46. He died of a drug overdose, according to CNN.

Also from the breaking news files: I am a supporter of breastfeeding rights, but this is a bit much. The United Arab Emirates is now mandating by law that women breastfeed their children for two years. It isn’t clear whether formula will be banned altogether. As someone who went 9 months and then a year with my two children and supplemented with formula when they were born because I was waiting for my milk to come in, this makes me shudder. Those poor women…and babies.

In other health news: the UK Daily Mail had an interesting article — and discussion — on one teen’s idea for a plus-sized Disney princess. While moms welcomed the idea to improve body image among teen girls, some also wondered whether it was healthy for Disney to promote either skinny or plus-sized princesses. What say you?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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Breastfeeding Etiquette?

Good on Carolyn Hax for recently taking a question about breastfeeding in public. Along with access to birth control, I, on the other hand, can’t believe this is an issue. Read on:

BREASTFEEDING IN PUBLIC, SPECIFICALLY AT THE DINNER TABLE
Hi!! I’ll preface with two things: I don’t consider myself a prude and I don’t have kids (yet.) That said, I’m wondering on what the etiquette/general sensibility is around breastfeeding your child AT the table while out at a restaurant with other couples (males and females.) A friend’s wife has now done this twice at group meals and I get the general vibe that it’s not so comfortable for anyone else at the table, but there’s not any easy way to say something. I am all for breastfeeding and think it’s beautiful/natural/must be done when the baby needs it, etc. But, at the table?

CAROLYN HAX :
I’ve been at the table a few times while a mom breastfed her baby, and it wasn’t a big deal. There are ways to be discreet. There are also, often, not good places for a mother to go. You don’t want her sitting on the toilet, right? And presumably the crowd at the table will be more suitable company for a feeding than everyone who comes in the door, assuming the other place for her to go is the waiting area by the entrance.

Generally, I think someone who is just taking care of business gets a pass, and someone who is making a look-at-me Statement gets a, “Wha?”  But this applies to just about everything, not just breastfeeding. As does the general coping strategy of averting your eyes when there’s something going on that you don’t want to see but that doesn’t require any intervention on your part.

Seriously, I am still trying to understand this one. Breasts on Maxim, Play Boy and other magazines as well as TV shows, movies and beer commercials — but no boobs for feeding? What is up with the double standard?

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Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

MomsRising.org will meet with the White House for a live tweet chat this Thursday morning at 9 a.m.PT/ 12 p.m. ET — and you all are invited! Here are the details:

Can you join our live online Tweet Chat with the White House this coming Thursday, January 19th at 9:00am PDT/12:00pm EDT and be a part of that Twitter conversation by posting your questions and ideas in real time?  To join us, just follow @MomsRising on Twitter starting at 9:00am PDT/12:00pm EDT on Thursday, January 19th and be a part of the live conversation with the White House.  We’ll be using the Twitter hashtag #MomsatWH

Do you have any UI or 2012 priorities questions that you’d like us to have at the ready? Send them our way! Even if you can’t be online on the 19th, your questions and input are needed! Please email me at Monifa at MomsRising dot org your 2012 priorities questions ASAP so we can have them ready on January 19th.

I will be there — please join me!  

Carolyn Hax had a great column on how to find your “groove” when a child has gone off to college.

For the first time, New York City is shutting down one of its charter schools for mediocre performance, according to the New York Times.

What is it with people’s — er, men’s — discomfort around public breastfeeding? A heavy metal comic artist in Britain just called the cover of a heroine breastfeeding “offensive.” You have got to see the way women’s breasts are often drawn in these comic books at BlogHer. Misogynist much?


I am sure I am not the only diehard Dirty Dancing fan here who would appreciate this lovely write-up in Huffington Post about Patrick Swayze’s widow Lisa Niemi.

Speaking of Patrick Swayze, who died of pancreatic cancer at 57, a sausage a day or regular consumption of any processed meat can up the chances for the disease by a fifth, according to an article in the UK Mail. Yikes!

Finally, this video at Yahoo News is disturbing. It compared the fashion models of today with regular-sized women. As it turns out, models in the ’70s and ’80s were typically 8% thinner than the average woman. Today they are 23% skinnier than the average woman. Yuck.  

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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Friday Open Thread – Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda Edition

I wrote this blog at MomsRising.org in celebration of World Breastfeeding Week this week. -Gloria

Growing up, I was not your typical little girl. I never dreamed of finding my Prince Charming. I never planned my “Big Fat Mexican Wedding”. And, I never imagined that I would be a mother. When my childhood friends were out playing house, I was playing office. When they played with their dolls, I played with my typewriter. But, that all changed when I found myself pregnant at 24. I hadn’t planned on getting pregnant. In fact, it was a…surprise. I rushed into a marriage that I wasn’t prepared for and started to prepare for a life I knew nothing about.

I was a very immature 24-year-old, and I was ill-prepared to become a wife and mother.  I was right smack in the middle of a severe dependence on drugs and had to stop using cold-turkey when I found myself with child. My pregnancy couldn’t be over fast enough, and I found myself continuing the abuse once my daughter was born.  Breasfeeding was not an option for me because I had to get high. Sad, I know.  So there I was – 24, unhappy, unable to connect to this beautiful little girl, and numbing myself with drugs.  At the time, I didn’t know what I was missing with not breastfeeding my daughter.  

What I did was take advantage of programs, such as WIC and gave my daughter formula.  I often wondered how she could eat the stuff – it smelled so horrific.

If I had breastfed, not only would I have equipped her with the best nutrition, but I would have provided her with the much needed colostrums, which is rich in nutrients and antibodies that protect a baby.  Not only that, but my milk supply would change to accommodate the ever-changing needs of my growing baby.  There would be fewer instances of ear infections and digestive issues.  

But no, I was selfish and immature. I did the same almost 5 years later, when I gave birth to my son. I often lament the things I could have done, would have done, or should have done, had I known better. I am now an almost 42-year-old divorced mother of two incredible children, who is going on 13 years of being clean. I learned what is best, it just took me a little longer to get there.

According to my gynecologist, I am still able to have a…surprise. If it does happen – I will definitely have a little body hanging off my middle-aged boobs.

What are your coulda, woulda, shoulda’s?? Please share!

Happy Friday!!

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Lack of Support a Real Hindrance to Nursing Mothers

I wrote this blog at MomsRising.org in celebration of World Breastfeeding Week this week. -Elisa

Even though my mother raised four children at a time when formula was considered superior to breastfeeding – hence why we were all bottle-fed – I always knew I would breastfeed my children.

I remember taking early childhood development courses as part of my work in AmeriCorps in the late ’90s, and it made sense to me that breasts were for nursing babies. I knew there were antibodies in breast milk that were not replicated in formula.

Fast-forward 5 years when I became a mother at the age of 26. Breastfeeding was not intuitive for me. At. All. While I have heard of plenty of stories by women who had no trouble breastfeeding, I found myself awkwardly positioning my newborn son’s head to the breast, and constantly ringing the nurses to help me. They would grab my nipple – areola and all – and stuff the whole thing into the baby’s mouth. Ouch!  

Two weeks later at home, I had chafed nipples and even then I worried whether my son was receiving enough nutrition. At his weigh-in, the pediatrician assured me my chunky boy was getting more than enough to eat. I am grateful that I had the time to overcome this learning curve, which is why paid family leave is so important for new mothers.

Once I got the hang of nursing – about a month to two months later – I breastfed like a pro everywhere. I could nurse standing up. I even nursed while using the bathroom and talking on the phone at the same time! Breastfeeding was so convenient that I did so for nine months.

I know that various organizations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the World Health Organization have set benchmarks for nursing. But as I always tell new mothers, I took it one day at a time. I lived in the moment and enjoyed my baby.

This approach allowed me to nurse my second child, a daughter, for an entire year in spite of the rocky start (again). I had cracked bleeding nipples, and even a few bouts of mastitis – a painful breast infection that comes with a fever – that sent me to the doctor for antibiotics. I paid a lactation consultant $90 to see what I was doing “wrong.” She said that my nursing technique was fine, so I took my antibiotics, went back to work and successfully pumped, giving my daughter a year’s worth of breast milk.

I don’t regret nursing my children and actually enjoyed some of the more quiet and tender moments. It sure was convenient, especially during middle of the night feedings. But I can see how it would be nearly impossible without support at home and the workplace.    

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Elisabeth Badinter & modern motherhood

I read this week’s New Yorker piece yesterday on the French feminist Elisabeth Badinter. The full article is unfortunately not available online but there is a summary of it here:
http://www.newyorker.com/…
There is quite a bit in the article about her feelings about women and Islam (for example, she is in favor of the niqab ban) but a lot of it relates to her new book about modern day motherhood.

Badinter is convinced that young Frenchwomen have been undermining their hard-won claims to equality. She believes that, in the name of “difference,” young women are falling victim to sociobiological fictions that reduce them to the status of female mammals, programmed to the “higher claims” of womb and breast.

She herself has 3 children, by the way – she is quoted in the New Yorker as saying they all arrived very quickly (I think within 3.5 years) partly because her husband was quite a bit older. She is now a grandma of 3 who takes the grandchildren away every other weekend to their country home. She is quite wealthy.


Here she is being interviewed in Der Spiegel -

Badinter: We are currently living through a troubling phase in our development, a relapse to times long past. In French, we call this phenomenon “l’enfant roi,” or “the child is king.” According to this view, the interests of the mother are clearly less important than those of the child; they are secondary. And that, in turn, brings with it the desire to have the perfect child. Many of today’s young mothers believe that if they’re going to make the effort to stay at home and completely dedicate themselves to their children, they want them to be perfect, too: perfectly raised, intelligent, balanced, in harmony with nature. I honestly wonder how this affects children in the long term.

SPIEGEL: You’re particularly opposed to breastfeeding, which women are gently pressured to do.

Badinter: Gently pressured? Sure, with the help of a massive guilt trip! “You don’t want to breastfeed? But, Madame, don’t you want the very best for your baby?”

The New Yorker article commented that breastfeeding rates at 3 months in France were by far the lowest in Europe, I believe it was 30% vs. (for example) Norway’s 90%. French women work full time at a very high rate, however they have twice as many children as several other European countries. France has a very good child care system.

SPIEGEL: Has the model of their mothers really made women happy?

Badinter: Though it certainly wasn’t perfect, it was a huge leap forward. We could have kids and work — and no one made us feel bad about it. I think that’s one of the big differences between French and German women. French women have always been women first and foremost, and only then mothers. Shortly after giving birth they don’t just stay at home with their child; they go out, and they go back to work quickly. They want to return to their lives and be a part of society, and they also have to be a woman again, to be seductive — that’s what French men expect. It’s not just an upper-crust phenomenon, either. It’s in our genes. Even in the 17th and 18th century, women had a life apart from the children — a communal life, a social life, a love life.

The above quote made me wonder how much of this has to do with the role of women specifically in France. Evidently in the book one of the things she is opposed to is the family bed. The importance of sexuality to adult womanhood and the fact that she thinks it is less possible among women who are living more for their children is one of the reasons I think she is opposed to the newer model of motherhood.

Badinter: I can tell you something else I’ve learned over the years by looking out my window and watching mothers walking through the Jardin du Luxembourg park: I’ve spent hours watching their empty faces and their God-how-I-hate-all-of-this expressions. These women sit bored by the side of the sandpit looking to the left and the right, while their children play alone in the sand. Why can’t women admit that it can be unbearable to have to spend the whole day with a small child? That doesn’t automatically make you a bad mother.

SPIEGEL: So, what is a “good” mother, then?

Badinter: The French ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss said that you should always maintain the right distance between two cultures. I believe that a good mother is someone who manages to keep a certain distance between herself and her child — not too close, not too far away — to give it what it needs, to not smother it, to not be constantly absent or constantly present. She has to be something in between. But, unfortunately, that’s extremely rare.

The book appears to be coming out in English in January. The French version was reviewed earlier this year in several places.

The Daily Beast -

Yes, the great new oppressor of women—according to the impassioned screed of a popular French author—is that warm, pudgy little creature in the crib. “The baby,” writes polemic philosopher Elisabeth Badinter, “is the best ally of masculine domination.”

Badinter’s recently released screed has divided feminists, angered ecologists, annoyed health experts, and become a bestseller in France. The book may have an academic title— Le Conflit, la femme et la mère ( Conflict, Woman and Mother)—but it might as well be called: New Mom, Your Life Is Over! She rails against the sanctification of motherhood, over-the-top environmental-sensitivity, and return-to-nature trends in contemporary child rearing that relegate the modern mother to the level of a “female chimpanzee.” A mother of three, Badinter argues that the progressive demands on motherhood take away a woman’s physical freedoms, smothers her social life, and usurps her sexuality, among other laments—all in the name of being a “good” mother. And despite mom’s best intentions, she will never quite be good enough.

The New York Times -

“Women’s lives have grown more difficult in the last 20 years,” Ms. Badinter said in an interview. “Professional life is ever harder, ever more stressful and unattractive, and on the other hand, there is an accumulation of new moral duties weighing on women.”

In “Le Conflit: la femme et la mère” (“Conflict: The Woman and the Mother”), she contends that the politics of the last 40 years have produced three trends that have affected the concept of motherhood, and, consequently, women’s independence. First is what she sums up as “ecology” and the desire to return to simpler times; second, a behavioral science based on ethology, the study of animal behavior; and last, an “essentialist” feminism, which praises breast-feeding and the experience of natural childbirth, while disparaging drugs and artificial hormones, like epidurals and birth control pills.

All three trends, Ms. Badinter writes, “boast about bringing happiness and wisdom to women, mothers, family, society and all of humankind.” But they also create enormous guilt in a woman who can’t live up to a false ideal. “The specter of the bad mother imposes itself on her even more cruelly insofar as she has unconsciously internalized the ideal of the good mother,” she writes.

The Guardian -

Thanks to a new coalition of ecologists, breastfeeding advocates and behavioural specialists, she argued, young women are facing increasing pressure to be perfect mothers who adhere to strict guidelines for how to care for their babies.

If this “regressive” movement takes hold, French feminism could be set back decades, she argued.

“The majority of French women [now] reconcile maternity with professional life. Many of them work full-time when they have a child. They are resisting the model of the perfect mother, but for how long?” Badinter said in an interview with Libération newspaper. “I get the impression that we may now be at a turning point.”

Ms. Magazine asks, “Will Elisabeth Badinter’s new book rile Oprah mommies?”

She does, however, hold fast to the philosophical tradition of Simone de Beauvoir, arguing that a woman’s identity must be determined outside of motherhood or, as she writes “a woman first and mothers second.” Badinter is primarily interested in deconstructing “essentialist feminism” which, she suggests, “boasts about bringing happiness and wisdom” to mothers and families but subverts feminism and holds mothers to a false ideal (one can never actually be a perfect mother)

Badinter suggests that the culture of masochism and female sacrifice to maternity is at unforeseen levels in America, where the ideology is fueled. One only needs to look at the case of Ayelet Waldman for an example.  Waldman, some of you might remember, was booed on Oprah and demonized by mothers across the country for daring to suggest that she loves her husband more than her children.

Jezebel has a jokey take on it all as well, with perhaps unsurprisingly the most positive review of her out there that I ran across. She’s good at getting press, that’s for sure.

I like to listen to podcasts while I run and last week I was listening to the Slate Double X gabfest. The July 14 one discusses In Spite of Everything, which is a Gen X divorce memoir. Evidently the author is a child of divorce herself and I think maybe her husband is too. In the podcast one of the women commented that she thought in the 1970s divorce was treated more casually than it is today and that she thought there is something of a backlash against that for modern day married people. I believe she also related this to modern day parenting: that women today take parenting much more seriously than women did 30 years ago. I thought this was similar to Elisabeth Badinter’s contentions about the idea of maternal perfection, as well. She comments in that Spiegel interview,

What we’re currently experiencing is daughters taking revenge on their mothers. I didn’t want to be like my mother, either — that is, sitting at home waiting for daddy to get there, hoping that he’d give me some money. I wanted to be independent. The current generation of young women is made up of the daughters of the feminists of the 1970s. They don’t want to be like their mothers — torn between their job and their family, constantly stressed, constantly tired. They think it must be much more satisfying to devote themselves entirely to their children.

I think she has a point that the culture of maternal perfection and subjugation to the children does have an impact in that it is the ideal in American mothering culture at the moment and is difficult to live up to. The fact that it doesn’t seem to be nearly as much a part of MotherTalkers as it does on some other parenting blogs is one reason I prefer being here where people are pretty live and let live. (Ms. was a bit snide in calling them “Oprah mommies.”)

I’m not so much on board with Badinter’s idea that you have to work in order to be a fully actualized woman – I work (part time) but I think it is kind of an old fashioned idea that women have to work. The 1970s feminists had a real backlash from women couldn’t work to all women should work and my hope is that nowadays we have somewhat gotten to more of a balance where every family can decide for themselves what is the right work situation for the mother and hopefully the father as well. I like working and having that adult and more intellectual challenge, but I also like having time for my home and my family, so that’s what works best for us. I’m sure other families have worked out a situation that is best for them as well. I don’t agree with the one size fits all prescription.

So – what are your thoughts?

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Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

The BlogHer Conference, which will take place August 5-6 in San Diego, is on my mind. I am participating in a couple BlogHer-related events, which I would love for you all to join me.

The first one is a pre-event blog chat at Moms Clean Air Force. It will take place on Wednesday, July 27, at 11:30 a.m. PT/ 2:30 p.m. ET. I will join my fellow panelists to talk about online organizing.  

The other event is at BlogHer, and is slated for Saturday, August 6, from 3 to 4:15 p.m.. The discussion, titled “How to sustain an online community and keep your own sanity,” is about nurturing and growing your community. I am going to also talk about monetizing your blog and discussing the pieces of advice I accepted and rejected from my husband Markos of the Daily Kos. This is not to be missed! :)

In other news: here is a story for new moms. Just to show you that parenting does get better, the Latina on a Mission blog published a wonderful essay by a single mother who suffered from postpartum depression, and is now nostalgic watching her 17-year-old about to leave the nest. Warning: bring the hankies!

In somewhat related, but funnier news: Women’s Health magazine interviewed actor Timothy Olyphant (Justified), who had this to say about parenthood:

It f—ing exhausts you! That’s how it changes you! My buddy on the show is expecting a baby. I said, “Imagine I call you at midnight, and I hang up without saying anything. Then I call you two hours later, and I hang up again. This continues. Oh, and by the way, in between my calls, you’re wondering if I’m dead.” That’s what it’s like.

LOL! I remember those nights, and how, once my children did start sleeping through the night, I was still up to watch them breathe.

Slate published a fascinating article on the history of social attitudes towards breastfeeding.


As a blog moderator, I’ve dealt with trolls — who shall not be named. :) But I came across a new type of trolling at the MomsRising blog when we ran our blog carnival protesting proposed cuts to Medicaid. There were one or two people subscribing under multiple names — including my first name! — to blast me and other commenters. This is called “sock puppetry,” and this is what MomsRising’s Rolling had to say about it:

We’ve noticed comments coming from your IP address that use different names and email addresses. This practice is known as sockpuppetry. It is a bannable offense because it undermines the trust required for honest conversation that we work to nurture on our blog. If we notice another instance of sockpuppetry from your IP address, we will ban comments from that IP address. Sockpuppetry violates our website’s Terms of Use. Thank you for understanding.

How pathetic is that? Also, I would love to see a study on this, but in my experience almost all trolls, even on women and mothering websites, are men. And you could totally tell because of the overpowering, misogynist tone. What is up with that?

In related news, Daily Kos’s Teacherken — now that is an evolved male! — covered an important study on how Medicaid is actually a middle class/working class safety net. Now that I think of it, I do remember that many of the families MomsRising interviewed DID have jobs, including multiple jobs in one family. The whole “lazy poor meme” does seem to be a red herring from the fringe right.  

The Latina Lista blog, which is on Facebook, had a couple interesting stories. One was about an online service to help minority women find potential adoptive parents for their babies of the same race or ethnic background. The other was the transcript of a Univision interview between Jorge Ramos and Andrew Breitbart. I heart Jorge Ramos!  

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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Tuesday Open Thread

Happy Tuesday!

An update on  my Saturday post: we had a lovely weekend away. We loved Ojai, which had an awesome artsy-agricultural-crunchy-small town vibe. We were underwhelmed by the pricey resort we stayed at, but enjoyed every minute of each other’s company. We ate amazing meals and took leisurely bike rides. We shopped, and we lounged by the pool. In short, it was heaven.

And we were more than happy to come home to our very tired kids (grandparents don’t enforce bedtimes, it seems… and of course, they had a blast). It turns out my milk did not dry up, and I was able to nurse Alex to sleep that night. Which is nice, because now I will wean him gradually. Nursing once a day, then every other day, and so on. I am just glad it doesn’t feel sudden or forced. But I can’t deny that he’s a big boy who has little patience for nursing nowadays; he just has so many other things to do! :-) And thank you all for your words of support and encouragement. Just having several of you tell me that I would be able to nurse him when I came home gave me a sense of relief and let me enjoy the weekend.

The weird thing is that while driving home on Sunday, DH and I were talking about how the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 is coming up this year. No idea why it came up or why we started talking about it. We also talked about how 9/11 was the beginning of a terrible habit for me: falling asleep with the TV on. In the days after the attacks, I was petrified to miss any news and was glued to CNN. Fast forward to Sunday night, and we heard the news that Bin Laden was dead. But this time the TV was on in the background and we were glued to facebook and Twitter, updating each other as we gleaned new tidbits of information. Less than a decade later, and the way we interact and disseminate information couldn’t be more different. It is fascinating to witness.

What’s on your mind today? Chat away!

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Sunday Open Thread

Happy Sunday everyone! A few stories to ponder…

A small study has found that moms who breastfeed their babies don’t get less sleep than those who formula feed.

When Montgomery-Downs and her colleagues asked 80 new mothers to report how often they woke up and how rested they felt, and to wear sensors that measured how long and efficiently they slept, they found no significant differences between those who relied on breastfeeding, formula, or both. They report their findings in the journal Pediatrics.

This suggests that “there may be some kind of compensation” for breastfeeding mothers, Montgomery-Downs said in an interview.

For instance, babies who breastfeed may wake up more (and wake up their parents more), but those nighttime feedings may have less of an impact than if they were drinking formula, she suggested. In order to prepare a bottle, women often have to get up, turn on the lights, and move around quite a bit, all of which may make it harder for them to go back to sleep.

I’m a light sleeper, so once I’m awake to nurse, I rarely get right back to sleep. And I will say that since Alex started sleeping through the night reliably (KNOCKING WOOD AS I TYPE), I feel like a brand new woman!

This article, on what happens when mommy bloggers’ kids grow up, gave me pause.

“It was a little bit different when I was doing it, because I was edited,” says Robin Marantz Henig, now a science writer and contributer to The New York Times Magazine. The stories Henig wrote that involved her children often took weeks or months of careful writing, and then went through several rounds of editing, before being published — compare that to a blog, which can be dashed off in a matter of minutes.

“But I did things that were just as bad,” Henig continues. “I did things like, ‘My daughter is fat; what can we do to make her less fat?’ With photographs.” That’s her older daughter, Jess, she was writing about…

“My older daughter, at some level, has not forgiven me for what I wrote (about her body),” Henig adds. Last year, she and her daughter, Jess Zimmerman, wrote about their experiences with that Woman’s Day story for O magazine. Zimmerman wrote, “When Mom wrote about children and health, I appeared in the role of Fat Kid Saved by Diet or Exercise. The reality might have been that I ate no more than other kids, that I read a lot but also played a lot outside, that I wasn’t even particularly fat. But such complexities weren’t part of my role in my mother’s narrative. I was an object lesson — proof that even fat kids could be salvaged.”

Ouch.

While I do write about my kids, I try not to overshare, if you know what I mean, and just use some common sense. The article also states that Heather Armstrong, of Dooce, has decided not to write about her 6-year-old daughter Leta any more unless she grants permission.

What about you? Do you follow any guidelines when it comes to writing about your kids? Do you worry about any long-term impact?

What’s everyone up to on this fine Sunday? Chat away!

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Even small businesses required to accommodate breastfeeding employees

cross-posted at Bleeding Heartland

Nursing mothers who need to express breast milk at work have more support under a new federal regulation. The U.S. Department of Labor recently clarified “the break time requirement for nursing mothers in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (better known as the health care reform law), which took effect in March.

Employers are required to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”  Employers are also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”


The regulation is broader than early reports suggested, according to Rachel Scott, who heads the Iowa Department of Human Rights’ Commission on the Status of Women:

Scott says they initially thought the law only applied to employers with 50 or more employees, but the guidelines recently released say the law applies to all employers — and those with under 50 employees can apply for an “undue hardship” exception. Scott says those seeking an exception will have to prove that compliance would be a problem.

“My understanding is it’s a difficult standard to prove, but it would be based upon the expense or difficulty of making an accommodation based on the nature and size of the business,” Scott explained.

Having the new rule cover all businesses except those that receive an exemption will help many nursing mothers. Most people work for businesses that have fewer than 50 employees. Women make up an estimated 54 percent of the workforce in Iowa, and breastfeeding rates in our state are currently below the national average.

Supporting women who need to express milk at work benefits employers as well as mothers and babies in many ways. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has many resources available “to help employers provide worksite lactation support” and “to educate employers about the value of supporting breastfeeding employees in the workplace.”

The Department of Labor’s new rule on workplace accommodation of breastfeeding “does not preempt State laws that provide greater protections to employees (for example, providing compensated break time, providing break time for exempt employees, or providing break time beyond 1 year after the child’s birth).” I doubt Iowa legislators would approve additional protections beyond the new federal rule, however. Earlier this year, the Iowa Senate approved a bill on workplace accommodation of breastfeeding, but the measure died in the Iowa House in the closing days of the shortened legislative session. That bill’s provisions were similar to the requirements spelled out in the new federal regulation (“reasonable efforts to provide a place, other than a toilet stall, which is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, that may be used by an employee to express breast milk in privacy”).

Any thoughts about pumping at work or policies to promote breastfeeding are welcome in this thread.

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