Politics & Government

Breastfeeding could become easier for working moms with this SC proposal. Here’s how

Group holds breastfeeding nurse-in

VIDEO: Yael Symes of Durham explains why she and members of the SODU (South Durham) Parents Posse held a "nurse-in" Saturday, April 2, 2016, at the Costco in Durham after she said she was made to feel uncomfortable breastfeeding her daughter in th
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VIDEO: Yael Symes of Durham explains why she and members of the SODU (South Durham) Parents Posse held a "nurse-in" Saturday, April 2, 2016, at the Costco in Durham after she said she was made to feel uncomfortable breastfeeding her daughter in th

South Carolina employers would have to provide breastfeeding employees with reasonable break time and a private space to pump breast milk at their workplace under a bill advanced Tuesday by state lawmakers.

“Until we as a nation decide to join the rest of the world in providing significant paid family leave following birth or adoption of a child, the least we can do as South Carolinians is support working women who want nothing more than to care for their babies while financially supporting their families and continuing their careers,” said Columbia resident Leslie Dillon.

A mother of two, Dillon told a panel of lawmakers she’s heard of “countless numbers of women” being pointed to a dirty bathroom to pump and prepare food for their infants, and some who couldn’t get a break from work to do so.

“Breastfeeding mothers need to pump or nurse regularly and frequently throughout the day to maintain an adequate milk supply for their baby and to prevent discomfort and possible infection of the breasts,” Dillon said. “Accommodating this need leads to fewer sick days for mothers, which means a more productive workforce within a business.”

The bill would apply to all employers, and it would require workplaces make reasonable efforts to provide a space, other than a toilet stall, where an employee can pump.

Employers would have to provide unpaid break time or permit nursing employees to use paid break time or meal time each day to express breast milk.

The amended bill also states employees “shall make reasonable efforts to minimize disruption to the employer’s operations.” And that, if possible, time provided to mothers to pump should run concurrent with break time already provided to employees.

The measure would prohibit employers from discriminating against any nursing employee who chooses to pump in the workplace. And it provides an exemption for employers where providing break time would cause an “undue hardship” on their operations. However, the burden is on the employer to show such hardship.

Violations of the act would be directed to the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission.

While federal law offers some workplace protection for breastfeeding employees, women’s rights advocates say greater protections, such as protecting all breastfeeding employees — not just hourly employees — and extending lactation accommodations beyond just one year are needed.

The bill is supported by the March of Dimes South Carolina and Women’s Rights & Empowerment Network.

Breastfeeding provides essential nutrients for infants along with antibodies to help build their immune system and prevent disease and infection, supporters argue. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life. And the AAP and WHO recommend mothers continue breastfeeding for a year or more while gradually introducing solid foods into the infant’s diet.

South Carolina ranks far lower than the national average of breastfed infants, said Ashley Lidow, associate director of policy and government relations for WREN.

“Many women who return to work after childbirth discontinue breastfeeding early because of lack of resources or support in the workplace,” Lidow said. “It is in the best interest of mothers, their infants and employers to make it easier for women to continue breastfeeding when they desire to do so.”

The bill builds upon the S.C. Pregnancy Accommodations Act passed last year by the General Assembly, said state Rep. Rosalyn Henderson-Myers, D-Spartanburg, the bill’s sponsor.

It now moves to the full House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee for consideration.

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.

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