Human Rights Attorney Kimberly Jacobsen spoke at Hartford Hospital’s World Breastfeeding Week Celebration on August 5, 2015. Human Rights Attorney Jody Walker Smith also attended the event with her baby, Maya.
You may ask why a civil rights attorney was asked to speak at a breastfeeding event – the answer is simple. The right to breastfeed or express breast milk is a civil right protected by the law.
Our state’s public accommodations law protects the right to breastfeed without restriction in any place of public accommodation. This includes most places you go every day like parks, theaters, restaurants, malls, daycare centers and doctor’s offices. No one can tell a breastfeeding mother to leave. No one can tell a breastfeeding mother to cover up. No one can tell breastfeeding mother to go use the bathroom to breastfeed. If a breastfeeding mother is restricted from breastfeeding in public, she can file a complaint with the CHRO and seek monetary damages and other relief.
Similarly, breastfeeding mothers are entitled to go back to work or school and continue to breastfeed or express breast milk without consequence. Not only is expressing breast milk throughout the day important to continue a mother’s milk supply – it is considered medically necessary to avoid mastitis (a breast infection). Federal and state law require most employers to allow mothers reasonable breaks to express breast milk. Despite those protections, one of the top reasons women stop breastfeeding is the difficulty they face after they return to work.
Breastfeeding mothers shouldn’t be harassed or treated differently because they are expressing milk at work. A breastfeeding mother can’t be fired or given less desirable assignments because she is still breastfeeding. A breastfeeding mother shouldn’t be discriminated against because of her choice to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.
The state Department of Labor will take complaints from mothers who are denied the right to express breast milk at work. The CHRO will take complaints from women who have been treated adversely because they have expressed breast milk at work. Here are some examples of adverse actions mothers have faced after going back to work: One mother experienced her coworkers making mooing sounds outside the lactation room and banging incessantly on the door. Another mother asks for space to express breast milk and, shortly thereafter, was terminated for reasons she thinks were related to her request. These are the types of situations where a mother could file a complaint with the CHRO seeking monetary damages.
We have a link on our website for a joint publication we drafted with the state Department of Health, the state Department of Labor and the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition. Additionally, if you wish to file a complaint you can visit our website for additional information.
Working mothers, non-working mothers, breast feeding mothers and bottle-feeding mothers, are all doing what we think is best to support our families and our children – no one should face discrimination for those choices.