Our Turn: New Hampshire must stand up for working mothers

Published: 1/25/2021 11:08:16 AM

Working and having a family has never been so difficult. Stagnant incomes and outdated workplace practices continue to pit being a parent against having a career. Unfortunately, we have also seen that the global pandemic has disproportionately impacted working mothers and women of color in New Hampshire and across the country.

We need to do more to support working families – the success of all of us depends on it. Which is why we have introduced the “NH Employers Support Working Mothers” bill (Senate Bill 69) in the New Hampshire Senate, which will have its first remote hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 9:15 a.m., in the Senate Commerce Committee.

Our bill requires certain employers to provide access to a sufficient space and a reasonable break period for nursing mothers to express milk during working hours. It builds on years of work by Sen. Martha Fuller Clark and an incredibly strong coalition of stakeholders who worked together to come up with a New Hampshire solution to support women in the workplace.

Importantly, the bill requires accommodations for working women – in a very flexible manner – who are excluded from the 2010 federal law, Break Time for Nursing Mothers. The federal law was an important step, however nearly one in four women of childbearing age are not covered by the law, including many who work in New Hampshire. Thirty-two states have passed legislation to bridge the gap in the federal law to cover more nursing mothers and provide expanded protections. New Hampshire is currently the only New England state that does not provide additional protections to fill the federal coverage gap.

The “NH Employers Support Working Mothers” bill is a win-win solution for the Granite State because it benefits babies, working mothers, businesses, and our economy.

While the health benefits of nursing are well known, returning to work and lack of employer accommodations are frequent reasons for stopping breastfeeding before a child turns one year – each of us could give you countless examples from our circle of friends alone. Comprehensive workplace lactation programs have been shown to increase breastfeeding among working mothers who are planning to breastfeed, which benefits both the mother and the baby. Breastfeeding protects babies and children from a host of acute and chronic diseases and has been shown to lower health care costs for mothers and their infants when compared to non-breastfeeding mothers. But not only that – it provides a real opportunity for employers to build loyalty, trust, and productivity with their employees, by enabling them to provide something so important to their child.

This bill will go a long way to keep working mothers in the workforce, which is increasingly important as New Hampshire continues to experience a workforce shortage. Women are a large and important sector of New Hampshire’s labor force: data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that women are 63.9% of our civilian workforce and according to recent data published by the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation, women comprise more than two-thirds of the essential workforce, our critical frontline workers. We know that many women leave their jobs after having a baby due to unfriendly work conditions, therefore supporting nursing mothers will go a long way in keeping women in the workforce as we rebuild New Hampshire’s economy.

Supporting nursing mothers in the workplace can also benefit companies by serving as an added recruitment incentive for female employees. This type of support is part of a modern, forward-thinking economy and as most employers realize – recruiting and retaining talent in New Hampshire is a major priority. It can also benefit a company’s bottom line. Companies that invest in workplace lactation programs (i.e. a written policy, dedicated private space and flexible break time) have shown a significant return on investment. Lastly, employers benefit from supporting nursing mothers in the workplace through reduced absenteeism, reduced turnover, and improved staff morale. Just ask us! We have both been nursing moms in the workplace, and it is such a tiny amount of time compared to the total productivity of a female employee.

It is New Hampshire’s turn to stand up for working mothers by passing Senate Bill 69. You can help by emailing or calling your senator in support of this bill, sharing your story at Tuesday’s hearing, or signing in support of the bill. The Senate’s remote sign-in sheet can be found here at http://gencourt.state.nh.us/remotecommittee/senate.aspx.

(Becky Whitley and Rebecca Perkins Kwoka are working mothers of young children and New Hampshire senators from Districts 15 and 21, respectively.)


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