Mom speaks out after having to pump breast milk in supply closet during jury duty — why is breastfeeding in public still so challenging?

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Many nursing moms don't know their rights, including the fact that it's legal to breastfeed in public in all 50 states. (Photo: Getty Images)
Many nursing moms don't know their rights, including the fact that it's legal to breastfeed in public in all 50 states. (Photo: Getty Images)

Mom Amanda Locklear needed a place to pump breast milk while serving on jury duty on Monday. She asked the clerk at the Wake County Justice Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she could pump and was led to a supply closet “filled with boxes and records.”

“So that’s where I got to pump,” Locklear told CBS17, explaining that, while the supply closet door had a lock on the outside, there was no way for her to lock it from the inside, leaving her worried that someone could just walk in.

The mom of two shared her frustrations in a Facebook post and is speaking out about her experience, stating that nursing moms “should receive dedicated nursing spaces and not just temporary ones.”

In the post, Locklear wrote: “I just want there to be a clean, safe, and dedicated private spaces. No nursing/pumping mother should have to sit in a storage closet with boxes of unmarked documents, cleaning products, and whatever else was in there. Or even furthermore a door that locks from the inside for privacy.”

She added: “The issue is how Nursing Mothers all over the United States are not receiving dedicated nursing spaces.”

Locklear is shedding light on a problem that many nursing moms across the U.S. are facing.

Headline after headline shows new moms being forced to nurse or pump breast milk in awkward (and in some cases unsanitary) places, like bathroom stalls and cars. And despite the fact that nursing is natural, convenient, and associated with several benefits for both mom and baby, there are many cases of mothers who have been shamed and harassed for breastfeeding their babies out in the open.

Part of the problem is that many — whether they’re moms or not — don’t know that breastfeeding in public is legal in all 50 states. (You can check your state’s more specific breastfeeding laws on The Bump.)

So why is breastfeeding in public still such a hot button issue?

“I think two big factors play into why we shame women for breastfeeding in public: The first is that society has only recently supported it,” Jennifer Conti, an obgyn at Stanford Health Care, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “New mothers even one and two generations ago were frequently encouraged to choose formula instead. And the other reason is that we culturally sexualize breasts in the media, so that when they're openly used to feed a baby, they're automatically miscategorized as something erotic as opposed to nurturing.”

Nadine Rosenblum, a perinatal lactation coordinator at Johns Hopkins Hospital, agrees, telling Yahoo Lifestyle: “There is a very strong culture in the U.S. of breasts as sexual.” Rosenblum adds that “some are confronted by and uncomfortable with the reality that breasts are really meant for children.”

Along with the right to breastfeed in public, there are other laws that nursing moms are often not aware of. For example, while it wouldn’t have helped Locklear in North Carolina, 17 states (California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia) and Puerto Rico exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty or allow jury service to be postponed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“I think very little is universally understood about not only breastfeeding laws, but also breastfeeding benefits more broadly,” says Conti. “We don't talk openly enough about breastfeeding, let alone support it publicly.”

Most employers are legally required to make accommodations for nursing moms, from reasonable breaks to pump breast milk to clean, private rooms (with locks) to do it in — and it can’t be the company bathroom. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act of 2010 amended the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which requires “an employer to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth each time such employee has need to express milk.”

The amendment also states: “The employer must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to express breast milk.”

The exception: Companies with fewer than 50 employees, who claim this poses “undue hardship,” are not required to provide a space for breastfeeding women.

Many companies have made strides in making it easier for moms to have a place to breastfeed and pump. Even airports are starting to step up by creating more lactation spaces thanks to the bipartisan Friendly Airports for Mothers (FAM) Act, which requires large and medium-size airports have nursing spaces in every terminal by 2020. (Mamava, a company that designs lactation rooms for breastfeeding moms in public areas, has a list of the best airports for breastfeeding moms.)

“There are great opportunities here, but there is also significant improvement,” says Rosenblum. “More women who are breastfeeding, have breastfed, or close family members of those who have breastfed are in positions to design spaces that support breastfeeding and/or milk expression. There is more awareness of the need to have comfortable places — be that secluded or not, depending on the mother’s comfort — to nurse or pump.”

But we have a long way to go. “Some businesses have it right,” says Conti. “A large number of businesses, including government offices, do not.”

Adds Conti: “We need more than laws to support nursing people. We need a cultural change that openly recognizes the benefits and supports people during this stage of their life.”

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