June 19, 2024 9:16 am
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Working Mothers Lack Breastfeeding Protections in Workplace

Credit: iStock

Parker Wallis

In New Hampshire, mothers are offered minimal legal protections for breastfeeding, particularly in the places at which they work. 

There currently exist some protections to help working mothers. Enshrined as recently as 1999, for example, NH Breastfeeding Law 132.10-d protects the right to breastfeed in public, with Title X of the law stating, “Breast-feeding a child does not constitute an act of indecent exposure and to restrict or limit the right of a mother to breast-feed her child is discriminatory.”

Additionally, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal mandate, entitles hourly employees a reasonable break time and private space (other than bathroom) to use a breast pump at work for up to one year after the child’s birth. 

Under an executive order signed by Governor Chris Sununu (R) in 2020, state workers in New Hampshire can bring their babies (ages 6 weeks to 6 months) to work if the state agency opted into the “Infants in the Workplace” initiative. 

Outside of these, however, there are barely any laws on the books to ensure the rights of breastfeeding employees in the state, compared to 32 other states that do.  

That being said, there have been efforts to change this. Senate Bill 69 was introduced to the New Hampshire legislature in January 2021 and passed in the state Senate a month later. If made into law, the legislation would mandate every employer with six or more employees to devote space and time for nursing mothers to pump breast milk, at least 30 minutes of time every three hours for the “expression of milk,” or “the initiation of lactation by manual or mechanical means,” according to the text of the bill. The space would also need to be a reasonable walk from the worksite, clean, shielded from view or intrusion by co-workers, and include an electrical outlet and a chair. Unfortunately, the measure has yet to pass in the House. 

Other legislation that would help nursing mothers in the workplace includes House Bill 231, which would not only grant nursing employees the right to pump breast milk at work but also breastfeed their child in the workplace, a measure of which SB 69 falls short, according to critics of the Senate bill like Kate Frederick, who was fired from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in 2012 for what she claims was a disagreement over where and when she could breastfeed. Frederick is currently suing the DHHS for wrongful discharge over the issue. 

Sadly, much like SB 69, HB 231 did not pass in the New Hampshire House and has seemingly died in the chamber. 

Regardless, people are working hard to secure these rights for working mothers and breastfeeding employees. The non-profit organization New Hampshire Breastfeeding Taskforce, whose mission is to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding through education, outreach and advocacy,” have worked in tandem with lawmakers to cement these protections into law. The organization, for instance, collaborated with former Senator Martha Fuller Clark, one of the original architects of SB 69, to bring the bill to fruition. 

In addition, a protest headed by the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy stationed outside the state House on Labor Day this year, seeking to address the state’s minimum wage, labor shortages, and desired policies to support workers, which included workplace breastfeeding protections. 

New Hampshire has a long way to go to provide a truly equitable workplace environment for all employees, especially nursing mothers.