LIHU‘E – Only 13 percent of businesses are familiar with state and federal workplace breastfeeding laws, according to a recent survey of Kaua‘i’s 30 largest employers.
“The Surgeon General has put out a call to action to enact good breastfeeding practices,” said Communities Putting Prevention to Work Hawai‘i Project Coordinator Tommy Noyes. “Evidence shows babies who are breastfed have better health over a lifetime. It’s the best way to ensure immunities and prevent obesity.”
The state is answering the call to action through a Department of Health employer education and outreach program on Kaua‘i and Maui. The federal government is funding the program with a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant of $3.4 million.
Babies who are breastfed are better immunized against infectious diseases and have fewer health problems, such as ear infections, serious illnesses, allergies, sudden infant death syndrome, obesity and diabetes, according to New York State’s Mother’s Bill of Rights. Some studies have shown it raises a child’s IQ. For mothers, breastfeeding reduces risks like breast and ovarian cancer, as well as osteoporosis, and helps to shed unwanted baby pounds faster.
DOH and CPPW have started a campaign for the hospitals and business on Kaua‘i to become Baby Friendly, said Geoffrey Berz, a representative of the Baby Friendly Kaua‘i program.
“This Baby Friendly distinction comes from the World Health Organization’s standards for hospitals. Both (Kaua‘i Veterans Memorial Hospital) and Wilcox (Memorial Hospital) will be striving to attain this distinction,” he stated in an email.
“Kaua‘i is furthering these efforts to ensure businesses on Kaua‘i understand the new laws about breastfeeding and become informed about the assistance available to them in supporting new mothers returning to work, all with the goal of becoming Baby Friendly businesses.”
During an Aug. 3 Baby Friendly Kaua‘i employer symposium at Kaua‘i Beach Resort, the message was clear: Providing new mothers in the workplace with the break time and a private place to express breast milk is not just a perk, it’s now the law for companies with more than 50 employees, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
According to the USDL Wage and Hour Division, employers are required to provide a “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 the milk.”
Employers must also provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”
Time and location
A reasonable amount break time to express milk is defined as “frequently as needed by the nursing mother. The frequency of breaks needed to express milk as well as the duration of each break will likely vary.”
A bathroom, even if private, is not a qualified location, the law states.
“The location provided must be functional as a space for expressing breast milk,” USDL states. “If the space is not dedicated to the nursing mother’s use, it must be available when needed in order to meet the statutory requirement. A space temporarily created or converted into a space for expressing milk or made available when needed by the nursing mother is sufficient provided that the space is shielded from view, and free from any intrusion from co-workers and the public.”
Coverage and compensation
According to federal law, only employees who are not exempt from section 7, which includes the Fair Labor and Standards Act’s overtime pay requirements, are entitled to breaks to express milk; however, state laws may require such breaks.
Twenty-four states, including Hawai‘i, have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace. Hawai‘i’s legislation encompasses women nursing in public and women who continue breastfeeding when they return to work.
Hawai‘i’s law states that it is “discrimination to treat a breastfeeding mother differently from any other employee, including the refusal to hire or employ, or to bar or discharge from employment, or withhold pay, demote or penalize a lactating employee because an employee breastfeeds or expresses milk at the workplace,” according to uslegal.com. “Furthermore, it requires employers to allow women to breastfeed or express milk during their regular or authorized breaks at work.”
Under federal law, “employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to the FLSA breaktime requirement, if compliance with the provision would impose an undue hardship,” meaning “the difficulty or expense of compliance for a specific employer in comparison to the size, financial resources, nature and structure of the employer’s business.”
Employers are not required under the FLSA to compensate nursing mothers for breaks taken for the purpose of expressing milk, says USDL.
The six-hour Kaua‘i symposium featured keynote speakers and community members who communicated the importance of getting businesses and the community to support mothers as they return to work and to take the Baby Friendly pledge.
Representatives from the following businesses attended: Kaua‘i Beach Resort, Walmart, King Auto Center, Keioki’s Paradise, Kapa‘a School, Island School, Costco, St. Regis at Princeville, Kaua‘i Community Federal Credit Union, Madden Corporations, Hukilau Lanai, Crazy Shirts, Macy’s and Syngenta.
Of these businesses, nine took the Baby Friendly pledge and signed up to receive a $1,000 portable breast pump and related supplied at no charge.
Krisztina Geczi, a breastfeeding peer counselor for WIC, said $95,000 has been spent on breast pumps for the state. “Are we Baby Friendly yet,” she chided.
For more information, contact WIC at 888-820-6465, the Maternal and Child Health Branch at 733-9021 or the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission at 586-8636.
Federal breastfeeding laws may be viewed at the U.S. Department of Labor’s website at dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers/. Visit the National Conference of State Legislatures website at ncsl.org/ for more information about State laws. Additional details about the Baby Friendly program are available at www.babyfriendly.org.
• Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or by emailing email@example.com.