A woman’s decision to breastfeed a child can have a profound impact on a newborn’s development. The act of nursing provides crucial bonding for the mother and child. A woman’s breast milk can adjust to a child’s specific needs and will even help provide them with antibodies that can facilitate better immunity to common illnesses.
Breastfeeding for a significant amount of time after birth has an association with reduced long-term breast cancer risk and a faster loss of any remaining excess weight gained during the pregnancy. However, when women intend to go back to work after the birth of a child, they may not understand their rights and may assume that they have to use formula to feed their child so that they can return to work when their paid or unpaid maternity leave ends. The laws in Rhode Island protect the rights of breastfeeding new mothers, but many women are not fully aware of their workplace rights.
What does state law permit?
There are two separate statutes that influence the rights of pregnant workers in Rhode Island. There is the general breastfeeding statute that allows a woman to lawfully nurse a child anywhere she has the legal right to be. In other words, mothers can nurse that restaurants or public parks if their child is hungry.
For those attempting to nurse while working or to pump to maintain their milk supply, there is a separate set of rules that apply. The workplace breastfeeding law in Rhode Island largely mirrors federal protections for breastfeeding or lactating women in the workplace. Workers can request a private space for nursing and infant or pumping. That private space should not be a bathroom. Employers should allow women to take as many breaks as will be necessary to express milk and maintain their supply unless doing so would cause an undue hardship. Finally, workers should not have to worry about retaliation if they make use of those rights by requesting accommodations from their employer.
All too often, women have to compromise the standard of care that they provide for a newborn child because they worry about protecting their jobs and are unfamiliar with their rights. Learning about how Rhode Island protects new mothers may help women better balance the demands of their new newly expanded family and their careers.