CARIBOU, Maine — In the fall of 2009, members of the Aroostook County Breastfeeding Coalition sent business owners throughout The County an educational letter about a law giving a mother the right to breast-feed her baby in any location, public or private, as long as she is otherwise authorized to be there.
A little more than a year later, coalition members are still working to make certain that every employer and every mother knows about breast-feeding rights under the state law.
“We want to get the word out about breast-feeding rights and support it in The County,” said coalition member Jennifer Plante, a nurse at Cary Medical Center. “It’s scientifically proven that it’s the best way to feed a baby and we just want to get the word out that breast-feeding is a choice and it’s the healthiest choice for a family.”
The law stipulates that employers must provide adequate unpaid or paid break time to express breast milk for up to three years after childbirth and that the employer must make reasonable efforts to provide a clean place, other than a bathroom, where an employee may express breast milk in privacy.
While the coalition’s mission is centered on getting the facts out to women, they recently have focused on getting the word out to employers that they are required by law to provide breast-feeding employees with a private location — other than a bathroom — in which to pump breast milk while at work.
“Just like all other humans, we wouldn’t eat our dinner in a bathroom, and newborns shouldn’t have to either,” Plante said.
There are exceptions to the laws.
“If a breast-feeding woman is a logger or something then there wouldn’t be a facility with a sink and with an outlet to do this,” Plante said.
Whether an employer provides a breast-feeding mother with extra paid or unpaid break time or whether the woman uses one of her regularly scheduled breaks to express breast milk, the law requires employers to give breast-feeding mothers a time and a place to pump breast milk at work.
According to Plante, some mothers feel that it’s too difficult to pump at work, which influences their decision to stop breast-feeding after a few months even though the American College of Physicians recommends breast-feeding for at least six months to one year.
“Breast-feeding moms and babies are healthier and sick less, which means fewer sick days for a mom, fewer health care costs, and it increases employee satisfaction as well as decreases absenteeism,” Plante said. “Also, we want businesses to know that any place a woman is allowed to be at, whether she’s shopping or patronizing that business, she has a right to pump or breast-feed there.”
Businesses that support breast-feeding mothers are able to obtain signs that state “breast-feeding supported here” from the coalition; businesses interested in obtaining a sign or individuals looking for more information about breast-feeding should contact Carole Bell at 768-3056.
The Aroostook Breastfeeding Coalition is supported by the Aroostook County Action Program, Cary Medical Center, Fish River Rural Health Center, Houlton Regional Hospital, La Leche League, Northern Maine Medical Center, Public Health Nursing, The Aroostook Medical Center and University of Maine Cooperative Extension.