New Indiana law means no more crying over expressed milk

Not too long ago, the workplace was not receptive to the needs—or even the notion—of working mothers. Conditions have improved dramatically over the past 40 years.

Laws such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act now make it unlawful to discriminate against women on the basis of their pregnancies. The FMLA provides eligible employees the right to take time off from work without fear of losing their jobs, even if they work for an organization with no formal maternity policy.

But one category of working women has remained unprotected by civil rights laws: those who have recently given birth who want to return to work—and want to breastfeed their children.

Thanks to a new law that will take effect this summer, Indiana women who breastfeed will find their lives a little easier.

The number of women in the work force who want to breastfeed has risen dramatically, perhaps due to a better understanding of the benefits to both mother and child. Breastfeeding provides long-term beneficial effects for a mother, including an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight and reduced risk of breast cancer and osteoporosis. It also helps boost an infant’s immunity to disease and infection, as well as increased cognitive development.

There are also socioeconomic benefits to encouraging breastfeeding: Women who breastfeed don’t have to purchase costly formula, and breastfed children are less likely to need as much medical care as those who drink formula.

New law takes effect in July

Recognizing a general need to protect nursing mothers’ rights, several states have provided protection to women who choose to breastfeed their children. Indiana already protects a mother who wishes to breastfeed her child in public. Now, moving yet another step forward, Indiana is about to join 14 other states that already have enacted laws to support breastfeeding women by protecting their right to express milk in the workplace.

Starting July 1, 2008, Indiana companies that employ at least 25 workers will be required to provide certain basic facilities for women to express breast milk during the working day. Senate Enrolled Act 219—authored by state Sen. Vi Simpson and signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels in February 2008—requires covered businesses to make a reasonable effort to provide a private place for an employee to express breast milk. Additionally, and to the extent possible, the employer also must provide some form of refrigeration (or allow the employee to provide her own means of refrigeration) to store milk throughout the day.

The goal of the law is to encourage working mothers who return to the job after the standard three-month maternity leave to continue providing breast milk to their children.

To comply with the act, employers should provide a private area (other than a bathroom stall) in which a lactating employee can utilize milk expression equipment throughout the course of the day.

In addition to requiring private employers to provide the opportunity to express and store breast milk, the act also requires all state agencies (and political subdivisions) in Indiana to provide a reasonable paid break time each day for employees who need to express breast milk.

Employer liability limited

Most importantly, the act protects employers from most forms of liability linked directly to either the expression of an employee’s breast milk or the storage of that milk on company premises. In other words, except in cases of willful misconduct, gross negligence or bad faith, the company cannot be held responsible for “harm caused by or arriving from” the expression of breast milk.

Those same protections apply to state agencies and political subdivisions, as long as they make reasonable attempts to comply with the law.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether this new provision will lead to any significant changes for working Indiana mothers.

However, it does serve as yet another example of the growing interest in protecting the rights of women as they return to the work force following the birth of their children.

Pitfalls of nursing in the workplace

Working mothers who breastfeed have special concerns. They may need to express milk or feed their children during working hours. And while many kinds of expression equipment exist, many women find working conditions don’t lend themselves to using breast pumps.

The workplace traditionally presents other significant hurdles for women who want to both perform their jobs and provide their children the opportunity to be breastfed:

  • Breaks may be too infrequent or brief to express milk.
  • A lack of privacy or space may force women to use bathroom stalls.
  • A lack of refrigeration may cause breast milk to spoil.