Before I became a parent, if someone told me that I'd become so intimately aware of the laws surrounding the rights of a breastfeeding mother, I would have rolled my eyes. It's a natural mom-to-baby act that women have been doing for centuries, I'd have said. What does the law have to do with it? As the story of Sashay Brown, a female Washington, D.C. cop forced into an unpaid leave to keep feeding her baby, proves, a whole heckuva lot.
See, the Washington, D.C. police force provides its working moms with lactation rooms for pumping their breast milk to take home to baby. Federal law says they have to. So they do. But the way the force sees it, hanging a sign on a door that says "mothers can pump here" is enough. They don't have to actually give moms real access to it. That, America, is the problem with breastfeeding laws in America.
Moms like Sashay are already dealing with a maternity leave system in America that gives women just six weeks of "disability pay" for a natural birth. They're just getting into the swing of things with baby -- including breastfeeding -- when they're forced out of the home and back into the workplace in order to keep food on the family table. Now to add insult to injury, D.C. has decided breastfeeding moms like Sashay don't qualify for desk duty.
They have to be out on the street in heavy body armor that compresses their milk-filled breasts. And when they need to pump that sweet liquid for baby, they have to track down a commander, find a replacement, and hightail it back to headquarters to actually USE that lactation room, thereby taking precious time out of their whole "patrolling the streets" duties. In other words -- they're giving moms lactation rooms. They're just not giving them "real" access to them. That's Sashay's problem; she's found her employer makes pumping so impossible that she's been forced to take an unpaid leave to keep up her milk supply and keep feeding her baby.
And that, right there, is the trouble with breastfeeding laws in America. They're there to help moms, and we need them. But until society opens up and starts accepting that breastfeeding is an important part of raising the next generation of American kids, there will always be ways around the law. Employers like the Washington, D.C. police force will just half-ass it. Even worse, they'll be proud of the fact that they screw moms every way they can.
Just look at what Police Chief Cathy Lanier has told reporters since Sashay Brown, the breastfeeding cop forced to choose between her job and her baby, broke her story:
We are one of the only departments in the country to set up lactation rooms. Prior to that they had nothing and now that I’ve created all the special accommodations the complaints are coming in. So I’m not sure what else I can do.
She can start by stepping beyond the law and into reality, perhaps? Simply allowing moms to have lactation rooms or allowing moms to pump at work might be the law, but working moms need access too. They need support. They need employers who don't hassle them for taking advantage of their legally-protected right to breastfeed, who don't try to make it as difficult as possible for them to breastfeed in an attempt to just make the whole "problem" go away.
They need more than laws. They need respect for what motherhood brings to society. That means not just following the letter of the law for breastfeeding moms, but following a moral code to help raise the next generation of kids. Sashay Brown shouldn't have to choose between breastfeeding her baby and working. She should have the chance to do both.
Do you see the breastfeeding laws helping American moms as long as society remains so resistant?
Image via NataPics/Flickr