San Francisco just passed an ordinance requiring clean and private spaces for breastfeeding mothers needing to pump. It takes effect in January of 2018.
And finally… a spot of good news!
Supervisors in San Francisco unanimously approved an ordinance earlier this month that will require mothers to have a clean and private space to pump milk for their little ones. The ordinance goes further than California and federal law, which already require employers to make their best efforts to provide nursing mothers with lactation breaks. Advocates say the newly approved ordinance is a great victory for new mothers, as it provides more concrete guidelines for nursing moms, as well as for their employers. Under the new ordinance, lactation spaces must be clean and include a chair and surface area for a breast pump. Spaces must also contain an electricity hook up.
It seems like this ordinance should already be in existence, considering we live in one of the greatest first world countries the twenty-first century has to offer. Yet here we women are, fighting for a chair, a plug, and somewhere to set our milk machines down. “We’re talking about something that is so basic, it’s almost sad we have to legislate it,” said Julia Parish, an attorney at Legal Aid at Work. “This is about working moms providing food for their babies.” For those readers out there who have not been “pumpers” themselves, let me weave you a tiny tale about one mom and her pumping woes in the work place.
Yes, yes, you guessed it. That woman is me.
I breastfed both of my older daughters before returning to the workplace, so when I did go back to my job I was a bona fide pumping machine. I didn’t work in a office where I could shut the door and close the blinds. I couldn’t sneak in a pump session between conference calls or paperwork. I was a teacher, a special needs teacher to boot. I could barely squeeze in a daily tinkle, let alone a full-blown pumping session or two! My work space was a classroom, which I shared with two lovely women, who over the years had their fair share of catching a glimpse of my bosom while I milked away. I pumped behind a small, blue partition wall, which was the only place I could ensure that an unknowing student strolling the halls wouldn’t happen to glance over to my classroom, and have to see his or her teacher’s breasts latched onto the pump. If I wanted a clean space to “work” I had to create it myself, which I did everyday at lunchtime. You see, the area behind the blue wall was a space we used for students who needed fewer distractions from the larger group. Some of these students were prone to pretty epic meltdowns. Needless to say, the surface behind the “pump” wall didn’t always stay clean.
Truth be told, there were other spaces in the old school building that I could have chosen to make my baby’s food in. I could have pumped in the conference room, but that is where meetings and detention were held. I could have used the social work room, but the only time the social worker could run some of her social skills groups was during the lunch periods. I suppose I could have sat in the car and plugged the pump in, risking kids, parents and colleagues walking by. Really, the little blue wall was my poor breasts’ only refuge. Believe me, those puppies would be screaming by noon for some relief. With kids coming in and out of my classroom all morning and afternoon long, there was never a solid block of time to make the baby’s dinner.
So there I sat, behind the blue wall, in a semi-private and semi-clean space, hoping against all hopes that I could express all of my milk before a desperate teacher or child came pounding on my classroom door. Some days I got the job done, other days I didn’t.
So perhaps to some this new mandate isn’t all that important or special, but to all of my fellow pumpers who have pumped behind their own little blue wall, this is a big and wonderful deal.
This ordinance is one small step for human rights, and one giant step for my leaky-breasted comrades.