The Utah Legislature May Pass Laws Accommodating Lactating Employees

23 February 2015 Written by  

mom and Cas babyNine years ago, when my first child was born, I was fortunate to have a lactation–friendly employer, the Utah Department of Health. I didn't have to worry about requesting accommodation for lactation at work; policies were already in place ensuring that I would be accommodated. I didn't have to look for a place to pump; my employer already had a designated pumping room, with a lock and a fridge, available for nursing mothers like me.

I was surprised the first time I attended an all-day conference at a different state building. When I asked the receptionist where I could pump, she wrinkled her nose at me and told me to go to the restroom, as if I had just asked her where I could go vomit. I hadn’t realized before then that the welcoming environment for working mothers I enjoyed in my own department wasn’t universal.

I didn’t end up pumping in the restroom that day. After some hassle, an empty office was supplied me. But while attending a one-week training at a facility that wouldn’t accommodate me, I did pump in the women’s restroom. The only electrical outlet was located right next to the only sink, and to my embarrassment, directly in front of the mirror. Several women bumped into me as they squeezed in next to me to wash their hands after using the toilet.

For me, such experiences were the exception. Other women are not so lucky. Because my usual place of employment was accommodating, I was able to maintain my job at the health department for over a decade while successfully nursing all four of my children. Accommodating lactating employees is a symbiotic relationship: employers benefit from reduced turnover and fewer employee sick days, as breastfed infants enjoy greater immunity from illnesses that would keep their parents home from work.

Over the course of my state employment, I was happy to see the health department’s lactation-friendly policies adopted by other state agencies. The Utah legislature is now considering House Bill 242, which would expand these accommodations to all public employees. The sponsor of House Bill 242, Rep. Justin Miller, is also sponsoring House Bill 105, which would prohibit employment discrimination against breastfeeding mothers within both the private and public sectors.  Both bills would be valuable steps toward ensuring that fewer women find themselves forced to choose between breastfeeding their children and keeping their jobs. 

April Young Bennett 300April Young Bennett, Communications Director, joined the organization in 2014. She received her Master of Public Administration from the University of Arizona and her Bachelor in Community Health Education from Utah State University. Prior to joining Voices for Utah Children, April worked for the Utah Department of Health for over a decade, addressing health disparities among minorities and other underserved Utahns. She completed internships and fellowships with the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy and the U.S. Senate.