Bill seeks a designated breastfeeding area in schools

An education bill would require school boards to designate an area in each of their schools for breastfeeding.

By Kate Miller | Capital News Service

An education bill would require school boards to designate an area in each of their schools for a mother employed by the school board or enrolled as a student to express milk for her child.

House Bill 720 would require each school board to set aside a non-restroom space out of public view in a school for mothers to take breaks of “reasonable length” during the school day to express milk to feed a child under the age of one year.

The measure passed the Senate Education and Health Committee this past week with a 15 to zero vote. Delegate Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, introduced the bill. She said the Virginia Education Association expressed a need for the bill.

“The health benefits of breast feeding are so important that I think we as a state should do everything we can to support mothers who choose to breastfeed,” she said. “It would be nice if we didn’t have to have this bill, but I think the experience that a lot of women have had has shown that we do need it.”

McClellan says providing opportunities for nursing mothers in schools to express milk helps prevent the symptoms of breast engorgement, including pain and infections. She stresses how problematic these symptoms can be for teachers.

“You can imagine how difficult it is, you’re trying to teach and yet all that’s going on,” she said.

According to McClellan, allowing nursing mothers to regularly express milk is also important because the amount of milk a mother produces depends on how much milk the mother expresses, meaning a woman who does not have the opportunity to take regular breaks to express milk may not produce a sufficient amount to feed her child.

McClellan says she received numerous calls and emails from school employees who encountered obstacles expressing milk when they returned to work after having a child. She said one mother who contacted her was sent to a janitor’s closet containing harmful chemicals.

HB720 did not originally apply to students, but McClellan says it is important to consider the needs of student mothers.

“Unfortunately, you have students who are new mothers who have the same problem (expressing milk during the school day),” she said.

According to McClellan, it is important to provide a non-restroom area for mothers to express milk because a restroom is an unsanitary place to express milk to be fed to a child. She also says a confined, unsanitary restroom area is stressful for mothers.

“If you’re under a lot of stress, it reduces your ability to produce milk,” she said.

Delegate R. Steven Landes, R-Verona, and Delegate Tony Wilt, R-Harrisonburg–who voted against HB720 on the House floor–say the issue of providing spaces for mothers to express milk in schools should not be decided at the state level.

Landes says local school systems have the ability to provide spaces for breastfeeding without being mandated by the state.

“Why make all school systems do something that they probably can do with their own authority?” Landes said.

Wilt says he thinks most schools already have available spaces throughout the school day that a mother could use to express milk.

“You can’t tell me that every room is filled to capacity, or it even has students in it, every period all day long,” he said.

Wilt says he also worries about schools with limited resources that would not be able to provide the designated space for nursing mothers.

“It (the bill) would require them to come up with that (a designated space for expressing milk) even to the degree of constructing something,” he said.

Landes says he worries the bill does not provide funding for the potential cost it could create for school systems.

“My position is if we are going to mandate something like this, and there is potential cost, that we should provide the funding or we shouldn’t put it in place as a mandate,” Landes said.

Delegate James LeMunyon, R-Chantilly, who voted in favor of the bill, says he thinks the measure would have no cost consequences for Fairfax County, where his district is located. He also said it is in the best interest of the entire commonwealth to address the needs of teachers.

“It’s really just consistent with the overall policy that we want to attract the best and brightest teachers statewide,” he said. “Accommodating reasonable needs of … teachers is part of what it takes to do that.”

Photo by: NataPics

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