Breastfeeding moms need lactation stations at work

On June 21, New Zealand’s Prime Minister JacindaArdern achieved something no sitting world leader had done in almost three decades.
She gave birth and left the country’s highest leadership position to go on maternity leave.
Not long after Ardern returned from her 6 week leave, she was hit with her first parenting-related criticism. She chose to fly separately from her deputy to attend a summit so that she would be able to breastfeed her daughter. With this decision came a flurry of mixed reactions ranging from people questioning whether her presence was needed at the summit to championing her decision to put family first. Whatever decision she made, Ardern told the New Zealand Herald, “there would have been equal criticism.”
Mothers make up a large part of our economy. In 2016, there were 25.1 million employed mothers in the United States with children under the age of 18, and over 75 percent of them worked full-time. Juggling family and work is never easy, but for mothers who are re-entering the labor force after giving birth, it can especially be taxing.
As we know, the United States is the only industrialized country that does not have a nationally mandated paid family leave. The lack of government support for mothers can cause financial burdens and stress on family relationships because they may feel forced to get back to work before they are ready, but one part of motherhood that is deeply affected by the choice of returning to work is breastfeeding.
We are familiar with the studied health benefits of breastfeeding. For years doctors have told us that breastfeeding may provide protection against childhood infections and lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months and continue breastfeeding to at least the end of the child’s first year. Yet, according to a study, only 25 percent of working mothers who were breastfeeding a child under the age of one continued to do so for at least one month after returning to work.
We must support mothers by assisting their re-entry into the workforce. California law mandates that able employers must make reasonable efforts to provide lactation accommodations for employees who are in need of and request them. Last year, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed sweeping legislation that builds on current California laws. In this legislation, all able employers within San Francisco must make reasonable efforts to provide rooms or a space for lactation with requirements that surpass current state mandates such as providing electrical outlets for refrigeration and access to a sink with running water. The ordinance also enacts an extensive process that gives employees a clear and direct procedure to learn of and request lactation accommodations.
Here in San Mateo County, we strive to provide our employees a working environment that suits their needs. This includes supporting workplace policies that promote breastfeeding. There are currently 32 worksite lactation spaces in San Mateo County buildings in which county employees work. Many of the rooms even exceed current state mandates. In order to further promote the healthy practice of breastfeeding, I am also working on a resolution to mandate lactation rooms in all future county owned buildings in which county employees will work while also encouraging the same practice for all buildings within the county. Ensuring nursing workers are given the much-needed time and space for lactation needs to be a priority for all employers in order to make a more effective, productive and egalitarian workplace.
As a supervisor, it is my duty to work toward making sure all residents are treated equally and fairly in all aspects of their lives, especially their professional lives. I am proudly standing with and for nursing mothers in our workforce, because we cannot expect working mothers to work like they have no children while raising their children as if they do not have a career.
David J. Canepa is the San Mateo County supervisor serving District 5.