“On the Job, Nursing Mothers Find a 2-Class System”

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Article in today’s NYT by Jodi Kantor. Here’s an excerpt:

When a new mother returns to Starbucks’ corporate headquarters in Seattle after maternity leave, she learns what is behind the doors mysteriously marked”Lactation Room.”

Whenever she likes, she can slip away from her desk and behind those doors, sit in a plush recliner and behind curtains, and leaf through InStyle magazine as she holds a company-supplied pump to her chest, depositing her breast milk in bottles to be toted home later.

But if the mothers who staff the chain’s counters want to do the same, they must barricade themselves in small restrooms intended for customers, counting the minutes left in their breaks.

“Breast milk is supposed to be the best milk, I read it constantly when I was pregnant,”said Brittany Moore, who works at a Starbucks in Manhattan and feeds her 9-month old daughter formula.”I felt bad, I want the best for my child,”she said.”None of the moms here that I know actually breast-feed.”

Doctors firmly believe that breast milk is something of a magic elixir for babies, sharply reducing the rate of infection, and quite possibly reducing the risk of allergies, obesity, and chronic disease later in life.

But as pressure to breast-feed increases, a two-class system is emerging for working mothers. For those with autonomy in their jobs : generally, well-paid professionals : breast-feeding, and the pumping it requires, is a matter of choice. It is usually an inconvenience, and it may be an embarrassing comedy of manners, involving leaky bottles tucked into briefcases and brown paper bags in the office refrigerator. But for lower-income mothers : including many who work in restaurants, factories, call centers and the military : pumping at work is close to impossible, causing many women to decline to breast-feed at all, and others to quit after a short time.

It is a particularly literal case of how well-being tends to beget further well-being, and disadvantage tends to create disadvantage : passed down in a mother’s milk, or lack thereof.

“I feel like I had to choose between feeding my baby the best food and earning a living,”said Jennifer Munoz, a former cashier at Resorts Atlantic City Casino who said she faced obstacles that included irregular breaks and a refrigerator behind a locked door. She said she often dumped her milk into the toilet, knowing that if she did not pump every few hours, her milk supply would soon dwindle.

The casino denies discouraging Ms. Munoz from pumping.”We have policies and procedures in place to accommodate the needs of all of our employees,”Brian Cahill, a Resorts spokesman, said.

Full text is available here.

–Caroline Forell

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  1. Pingback: Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » Above The Law Finds Hilarity In Law Firm Lactation Rooms