Bill requires lactation spaces

Monitor staff
Published: 2/4/2021 5:03:15 PM

The New Hampshire Senate voted Thursday for a bill to require New Hampshire companies to allow new mothers to pump breast milk at work, moving forward a protection that has been years in the works.

Senate Bill 69, adopted unanimously by the chamber during its session Thursday, would mandate that every employer with six or more employees develop a policy to devote space and time for nursing mothers to pump breast milk.

The bill requires employers to provide those employees at least 30 minutes of time every three hours for the “expression of milk” – which the bill defines as “the initiation of lactation by manual or mechanical means.”

Employers would also be required to set aside a “sufficient space” for the mother to use to carry out pumping. That space would need to be within a reasonable walk from the worksite, would need to be clean, shielded from view or intrusion by co-workers, and would need to include an electrical outlet and a chair. The space cannot be a bathroom, the bill specifies.

The requirement would exist for a year after the birth of the child.

The bill has been hailed as a way to allow working mothers to continue pumping – a critical practice to retain milk supply through the child’s early years. But the bill does not mandate that employers must allow breastfeeding itself at the workplace.

Sen. Becky Whitley, a freshman Democrat from Hopkinton, said the bill was the culmination of years of work of former Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, who had served on the New Hampshire Breastfeeding Taskforce and pushed for the legislative protection.

“Stagnant incomes and outdated workplace practices continue to pit being a parent against having a career,” Whitley said.

The bill would help women and employers by keeping new moms in the workplace and allowing more women to continue breastfeeding without having to eventually transfer to formula, Whitley said.

Research suggests that a lack of breast pump protections means that working women are often forced to choose between working and pumping, which inevitably leads them to choose formula. That trend affects women of color at a higher rate. Black woman have much lower rates of breastfeeding than do white women – 69% of Black women say they have “ever” breastfed, compared to 85.9% of white women, according to the 2015 National Immunization Survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And Whitley said the pandemic had put additional stress on women in the workforce, many of whom have left because of parenting demands.

Additional research has found that breastfeeding has important health benefits for children compared to formula, which is also more expensive. Breastfeeding results in lower hospitalization rates and infections for the infant, according to studies in the Breastfeeding Medicine, a medical journal. And it can reduce the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer for nursing mothers.

Whitley said the bill would open up a “New Hampshire solution” to workplace protections, bringing the Granite State in line with 32 others.

“Senate Bill 69 is a win-win solution for the Granite State, because it benefits babies, working mothers, businesses and our economy,” she said.

Sen. Rebecca Perkins-Kwoka, a Portsmouth Democrat and Fuller-Clark’s successor, echoed Whitley’s praise of the bill.

“We specifically drafted the bill to be very flexible to accommodate New Hampshire small businesses, and it’s been a very collaborative effort working with a lot of state agencies,” she said. “If you talk to employers in New Hampshire, their main priority is to find talent, and this is one way that we can support keeping talent in our state and in our economy.”

But the bill’s lack of direct language requiring employers to allow breastfeeding with an infant in the workplace frustrated one prominent advocate.

Kate Frederick, who was fired by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services in 2012 for what she says was a disagreement over where and when she could breastfeed, said at a hearing for SB 69 that the bill was incomplete without addressing breastfeeding.

“The way this bill is written, it defines the term ‘express milk,’ ” Frederick said. “It doesn’t define the term ‘nursing’ or ‘lactation.’ And it specifically excludes breastfeeding.

“I don’t see how it’s possible to support breastfeeding by excluding breastfeeding.”

Frederick said she would support a different bill, House Bill 231, which directly supports mothers’ ability to breastfeed.

Frederick, who now lives in Strafford, Vt., is currently suing DHHS for wrongful discharge; oral arguments for an appeal appeared before the state Supreme Court earlier this month. DHHS has denied that it fired Frederick over breastfeeding and says that she was terminated for not showing up after exhausting her leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

After approval in the Senate, SB 69 moves next to the New Hampshire House, which has not announced plans or timing for its next meeting.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at 369-3307, edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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