Note to employers: If an employee asks for an easy accommodation to help feed her kids, just give it to her.
In November, the Washington, D.C. police department started a new initiative to push more officers out of their desks and onto the streets. That's a problem for breastfeeding women on the force, who say that the new assignments have isolated them from breastfeeding equipment and private rooms and forced them into uncomfortable body armor. Now, breastfeeding women who prefer to stay in the station must use sick leave to do so. The police union has filed a grievance over the issue.
Access to private, non-bathroom breastfeeding facilities is now a requirement under federal law. But for breast-feeding cops on a beat, accessing those facilities isn't always easy—or discreet. In the D.C. police department, officers must first notify a commander, find a street replacement, and then make it back to the station in order to pump. And the federal directive also fails to address conditions that may affect breastfeeding employees when they aren't physically pumping milk—like when they're forced to slip into a too-tight bulletproof vest.
Even with the federal legislation, access to breastfeeding has always been more difficult for women in certain professions. Writing for the New York Times in 2006, Jodi Kantor detailed the breastfeeding class divide for working moms:
as pressure to breast-feed increases, a two-class system is emerging for working mothers. For those with autonomy in their jobs—generally, well-paid professionals—breast-feeding, and the pumping it requires, is a matter of choice. It is usually an inconvenience, and it may be an embarrassing comedy of manners, involving leaky bottles tucked into briefcases and brown paper bags in the office refrigerator. But for lower-income mothers—including many who work in restaurants, factories, call centers and the military—pumping at work is close to impossible, causing many women to decline to breast-feed at all, and others to quit after a short time.\n
And it's not only D.C. cops who have faced those barriers. After her Times piece ran, Kantor relayed the story of Erica Romero, a small-town New Mexico police officer who fed her daughter "formula during the day and breast milk during off hours" to deal with her force's sub-par breastfeeding accommodations, and routinely squeezed into a now too-small vest just to do her job. Organizations like La Leche League International have offered up advice to breastfeeding law enforcement officers, helping them access ad-hoc solutions (like a breast pump car adapter) or systemic ones (like strategies for approaching higher-ups about the issue). In the end, though, the responsibility rests with employer. If an employee asks for an easy accommodation to help feed her kids, just give it to her.
Photo by Flickr user Tony Webster, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0