Throughout August, which is National Breastfeeding Month, many people have been working to inform their communities about the benefits of breastfeeding. Unfortunately, breastfeeding is not always supported or respected despite the many benefits it can provide. A lack of support, feelings of discomfort, and fear of how others will respond are common barriers that nursing mothers face in reaching their breastfeeding goals. But when nursing mothers, and their communities, know their rights and the laws about breastfeeding, they can feel more confident about making the decision to breastfeed.
In California, there are laws to support and protect a mother’s decision to breastfeed at work, school, and in public settings. An important thing for all mothers to know is that under California state law, a woman has the right to breastfeed her baby anywhere in public that she is allowed to be, including private businesses. In a work setting, federal law under the Affordable Care Act states that employers must provide break times and a private location (that is not a bathroom) to accommodate their employees’ need to express milk. The only employers that are not mandated to follow this law are small businesses of less than 50 employees, or those that can prove that doing so would be a serious hardship for their business. Another breastfeeding law to know for work purposes is the California Employment and Housing Act, which says that no one is to be discriminated against for breastfeeding when seeking employment. The violation of this labor law can result in a penalty of one hundred dollars for each code violation. Just recently in 2015, another new law was added in California to protect the breastfeeding rights of teen mothers who attend high school. The California Education Code, section 222, mandates that schools provide reasonable accommodations to nursing high school students, such as a private room to breastfeed or pump. This law is important because young mothers may be discouraged from breastfeeding due to school constraints. But thanks to this new, supportive breastfeeding law, more teen mothers will be enabled to balance breastfeeding with attending school. Increasing knowledge of all of these laws can help to ease any discomfort a mother might feel with breastfeeding in public or asking for pumping accommodations when returning to work or school.
Breastfeeding laws are also needed in order to show its significance to the community, and to normalize the fact that breastfeeding is a natural and healthy thing a mother can do for her child. Choosing to be supportive of breastfeeding can help make a community healthier since breastfeeding is healthier for both mothers and babies, better for the environment, more efficient, and cheaper than formula. Supporting a nursing mother can encourage her to continue giving her child the best nutrition, while also contributing to the health of the entire community. For personal breastfeeding support, you can contact the Merced County Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program, where they can connect you with breastfeeding support groups and provide you with the assistance you need to help make your breastfeeding journey successful. For more information about the rights of breastfeeding mothers in California, you visit the California Breastfeeding Coalition, or the Breastfeeding Rights in California website.
Want to do more? Watch and share this video about how to support breastfeeding mothers in your community.