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Mother Denied Right to Breastfeed Newborn by Employer

October 4, 2010

Angela Ames holds her sons Henry, 1 year, left, and Max, 4 months, in the backyard of their West Des Moines home last month. Ames said she quit her job as a loss mitigation specialist at Nationwide when she was denied access to a lactation room for expressing breast milk. She has filed a civil rights complaint against the company.

From Care2
By Ann Bibby

Angela Ames, a loss mitigation specialist for Nationwide Advantage Mortgage, returned to work a month after the birth of her second child, expecting to be able to use the company’s lactation room. She was greeted with paperwork, which the staff nurse informed her needed to be filed and processed before she could access a lactation room. This would take three days and even then, a room might not be available.

Mother’s Need Not Apply

Ames went to her supervisor where she learned that in addition to the lactation issue, she had just two weeks to catch up on her backlog of work, or she would start receiving write-ups. The supervisor also stressed the need for Ames to begin working overtime immediately, which she agreed to do.

Rock and a Hard Place for Working Mothers

But back at her desk, as milk leaked from her breasts, Ames recalled how she’d had to put her older son on formula because he hadn’t gained enough weight from breastfeeding. Her newborn, born five weeks early after a difficult pregnancy, needed the advantage of being breastfeed. His welfare and the company’s needs weren’t compatible.

Ames resigned that afternoon.

Civil Rights Issue

The story doesn’t end here. Ames decided to file a civil right’s complaint against her employer. The complaint comes at the end of the line for a mother whose pregnancy was treated as an inconvenience, one that bordered on willful misconduct in her employer’s eyes.

The state of Iowa has no legislation guaranteeing lactating women access to a safe, clean environment that is not a restroom. The Legislature took up a bill aimed at providing the women of Iowa this right last spring, but it died in committee.

…the true barrier to women breastfeeding at work isn’t legal; it is cultural. 

Margaret Heffernan


Company Policies

Nationwide does have a policy providing lactation rooms for their nursing employees, and a spokesperson at the national headquarters was unaware of the three day waiting period rule that Ames was told of.

Ames’ supervisors called her back from maternity leave early, telling her that her short-term disability would expire before the return date they’d agreed on before the birth of her son. They told her they would only hold her job for a week past the July 12th date on which they expected her return.

Mothering While Employed

None of this would come as a surprise to the hundreds of thousands of working mothers in the United States. Pregnancy is treated as an illness. Mothers are forced to use sick leave or take disability in order to give birth and take the minimum six week recuperation time off afterward. Despite a patchwork of lactation laws, finding a place to pump breast milk at work remains problematic for many. And most Americans still largely view breastfeeding a baby, or toddler, outside of one’s home, with disgust.

A Family Struggles

Ames and her family are now struggling financially as her husband, an electrician, has been laid off for some time. But faced with a no-win scenario, Ames felt she had little choice but to quit her job.

Her complaint is still under investigation.

RESOURCES

NCSL: US and US Territory Breastfeeding Laws, Updated September 2010

Breastfeeding in the Workplace: US Law Map

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Breastfeeding and the Law, US

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Breastfeeding International

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Breast Is Best

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