New mothers are given a slew of conflicting advice: they're told they must breastfeed their baby or they're a terrible parent, but also that they must go back to work and earn money as soon as they can or they're a lazy person (or, you know, in the case of most people who work because they have to and not because they want to: a broke person). But, despite laws that dictate that employers must allow breastfeeding mothers time and space to pump breastmilk at work, many employers don't do shit. Which puts breastfeeding moms in an incredibly tough position.
What the Huffington Post found as it reviewed 105 formal complaints filed to the Department of Labor probably won't surprise anyone, but it will confirm exactly what anyone who has tried to pump breastmilk in a place without a designated lactation room might have feared. According to the complaints, bosses would scrimp on breast pumping time, only permit employees to take breaks if things weren't busy, or would refuse to allow for reasonably long breaks at all. Employees that were allowed to take breaks were often shoved into a supply closet, forced to sit on the floor of a public restroom so customers or coworkers who came in to use the facilities could stumble in on them pumping. Breastfeeding moms been forced to provide their employers with doctor's notes explaining that women who are breastfeeding need to express milk if they want to continue breastfeeding. One woman, who worked at a McDonald's, was forced to clock out and walk 15 minutes to the nearest public library and pump her breast milk there. Still more women faced retaliation after raising concerns with supervisors.
Not only is this some cruel, anti-woman garbage, it's illegal. The Affordable Care Act mandates that every business with 50 or more employees must provide a private area that isn't a bathroom for women who are lactating to pump and be given a reasonable amount of time to do so, one provision of Obamacare that enjoyed both Republican and Democratic support. But HuffPo's investigation found more than a hundred cases of employers blatantly ignoring the law.
And the problem is probably bigger than we realize.
For starters, a lot of women don't know about the law's existence, and even fewer men do. It's also tough for a woman to file a complaint to the Department of Labor without sacrificing her anonymity; everyone knows who the lady at work who just had a baby is. And because many of the women who are denied ample time and space to pump breast milk are low-income, the stakes are especially high; these women cannot afford to risk losing their jobs or having their hours cut. Because of this, some women who complained to the Department of Labor reported that they simply stopped pumping, and instead began feeding their babies formula, even though they wanted to breastfeed.
It's clear that more education and enforcement is needed if Obamacare's pro-mother provisions are going to positively impact the lives of working mothers. It's also clear that a large percentage of American bosses have no fucking clue how the female body works.
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