Next Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors decides whether or not San Francisco leads the nation in workplace lactation accommodations. That is to say, there’s a chance that pumping breast milk might get a whole lot more comfortable for new mothers who return to their jobs in the city.
The proposed ordinance, introduced by Supervisor Katy Tang in March, would require all employers in San Francisco to provide a private, non-bathroom space for new mothers to pump, complete with seating, a table for equipment, a power outlet, and access to a sink and a refrigerator — although the last two do not necessarily have to be in the same room.
While state and federal law require a reasonable amount of unpaid break time and a private space for lactation, Tang’s law — which is co-sponsored by Supervisors Malia Cohen, Hillary Ronen, Jane Kim, London Breed, Sandra Lee Fewer and Norman Yee — goes the extra mile by mandating the standards listed above and further stating that the space must be free of toxic or hazardous materials.
“New mothers who want to return to work face so many barriers — whether it’s juggling childcare, balancing a new schedule, or figuring out how to provide breast milk for their child,” Tang said when she introduced the ordinance. “Although there are existing lactation laws, they do not provide minimum standards, such as requiring a place to sit or an electrical outlet. Many women also do not feel comfortable asking their employers for lactation breaks or accommodations, so our legislation seeks to make the lactation discussion a regular part of employment conversations.”
The proposed ordinance also comes amid concerns about the future of the Affordable Care Act, in which the current federal guidelines for reasonable access to lactation accommodations are laid out.
The bill comes to a vote four months after its introduction because Tang and her office needed to ensure that such sweeping requirements were feasible and reasonable to impose on businesses in the city. It also needed to go through the Department of Building Inspection, the Small Business Commission, and the Land Use Committee.
SF Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Public Policy Dee Dee Workman tells SF Weekly that the Chamber fully supports the legislation, and that they worked closely with Tang’s office to make sure that the business community — specifically small businesses — can implement the proposed accommodations. She also says the ordinance is, in fact, good for business for a host of reasons.
“Lactation accommodation is good for business, because it brings women back into the workplace after having a child, reduces absenteeism for both parents because breastfed babies are healthier, and helps attract a talented, skilled and stable workforce that appreciates the benefit,” Workman says. “It’s good for working women and their families, because it normalizes the need to request and discuss lactation accommodation between employees and employers.”
She adds that the policy will reduce the probability that women will feel they need to stop breastfeeding in order to return to work. According to the California Department of Public Health, 97 percent of women breastfeed while still in the hospital. However, by six months postpartum, the San Francisco Department of Public Health reports that only 16 percent of women in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program are exclusively breastfeeding, despite the affordability and myriad health benefits it provides.
“Most mothers don’t have the option to stay home with their new babies. Most mothers have to return to work pretty immediately,” Tang says. “We want to provide working moms the ability to at least do something that is beneficial for both themselves and their babies. … We definitely hope that more cities will introduce similar legislation. The more we can support new moms returning to work, the better it is for families, businesses, and our communities.”