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Accommodations for Breastfeeding Mothers in Missouri Schools

March 29, 2021
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Brittany Whitley and Dr. Elena Bickell

The decision to initiate and continue breastfeeding often depends on several factors, including:

  • whether or not the body produces a sufficient amount of breast milk
  • general knowledge about the benefits of breastfeeding
  • social support and cultural norms
  • easy access to appropriate breastfeeding accommodations outside the home.

In order to meet the health and privacy needs of breastfeeding employees and students, three primary accommodations are typically recommended for workplaces and schools- flexible milk expression breaks, a place to express milk, and a refrigerator to store the expressed milk. Few states (LA, NE, VA, CA) have statutory protections specifically for employees and students who need to express breast milk during the school day. House Bill 254 and Senate Bill 76 would require Missouri’s public school districts to establish a written policy that outlines their accommodations for lactating employees and students and specify that the school employee/student is given a minimum of three opportunities (at two-hour intervals) to express breast milk or breastfeed.

Highlights

  • Breastfeeding is associated with several maternal and infant health benefits, and decreases medical (e.g., healthcare) and non-medical (e.g., work absences) economic costs. Lactating women who are not able to express breast milk at regular intervals can experience pain, clogged ducts, infection, and reduced milk production.
  • Lactation-friendly workplaces can improve employee productivity, morale and loyalty, which can increase the ability to attract and retain qualified employees.
  • Most of Missouri’s teachers (78.6%) are women; approximately half are under 40 years old. While many breastfeeding teachers try to coordinate pumping with regularly scheduled breaks, teachers may have additional responsibilities (e.g., recess supervisor, student supervision, meetings) during these periods or may not have a private space available.
  • Student mothers who want to breastfeed may be discouraged from missing class or directed to a special school for “at-risk” youth. In many cases, these nontraditional schools are less academically rigorous and have fewer class/activity offerings.
  • Title IX prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy/childbirth and schools must make reasonable accommodations to the same degree that they would for students with temporary medical conditions.
  • Although the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires many employers to provide reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding mothers, teachers and other salaried employees are not currently covered by the FLSA due to a legal technicality.

Limitations

  • Inadequate breastfeeding accommodations are likely underreported in cases where teachers/students are unaware of their rights or have a fear of retaliation (e.g., job loss, poor recommendations).
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