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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Breastfeeding Rooms in the US

Hot on the heels of our own Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009 is the US' health care bill recently signed into law by President Barrack Obama which includes provisions on providing non-toilet rooms for pumping moms.

According to CNN, in page 1239 of the health care bill that President Obama recently signed into law, employers are required to provide "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk." [The local counterpart would be lactation stations mandated by Republic Act No. 10028, which are "private, clean, sanitary, and well-ventilated rooms or areas in the workplace or public places where nursing mothers can wash up, breastfeed or express their milk comfortably and store this afterward" and shall not be located in a toilet.] Noticeable is the fact that the authors of the law have realized how unsanitary it is to express milk in the toilet, yet so many working moms end up doing so because of the lack of available facilities.

However, depiste the grant of the breastfeeding station, the rights given to nursing moms by the law is still limited. Among the limitations enumerated in this New York Times blog are exemptions for companies with less than 50 employees [if company can show undue hardship], no guaranteed pay for time spent expressing milk and no requirement for access to a place where expressed milk can be stored. Also, there is an upper limit that the reasonable break time is only for employees nursing her child for 1 year after birth. I think the upper limit is based on the American Academy of Pediatricians' recommendation to breastfeed babies up to 1 year. But some moms, like me, continue to do so even after their babies turn one. In my case, I continued to express milk for Naima at work until she turned 2 years old. So does this mean that women who continue to breastfeed their babies beyond 1 year are no longer given reasonable break time to express milk for their toddlers?

I'm glad to note that our own law defines a nursing employee as "any female worker, regardless of employment status, who is breastfeeding her infant and/or young child (who is defined to be a child up to 36 months old). Also, the exemption for employees do not specify any number of female employees. Rather it is whether the establishment of the lactation stations "is not feasible or necessary due to the peculiar circumstances of the workplace or public place taking into consideration, among others, number of women employees, physical size of the establishment, and the average number of women who visit." I'm not sure if this is a better provision as it would depend on how the implementing rules and regulations will be construed.

In any case, having the requirement of breastfeeding stations clearly written in law is a major step. Hopefully, a detailed lactation program will be set-up in my workplace by the time I have my second baby.

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