DC Police Officer Takes Leave Because of Breastfeeding Policy


Photo by PoPville flickr user fromcaliw/love

A reader forwards the following email:

[BirthOptionsAlliance] DC Police Officer forced to take leave w/o pay because she wants to BREASTFEED!

A mother in DC needs our help! She is DC Police Officer and has been forced to take leave w/o pay which obviously is putting a financial strain on her family, because she wanted to continue to breastfeed her baby after returning to work. The job initially providing support, quickly changed their tone, when the mother complained about the sanitary conditions of the nursing rooms which were reported to not be up to code. At this point she was told that she would essentially have to choose between her job or continuing to breastfeed her baby.

Fox5 explains:

The new moms say they’re being required to wear bullet proof vests when on duty, which can be quite painful. One of them says it’s so bad she’s being forced to take leave without pay.

Chief Cathy Lanier defended her policy Monday saying there is not much more that she can do.
The Chief said when you are talking about mothers nursing their babies for a year or more its tough to be more accommodating than she’s already been.

Do you think DC is being unfair in its policy? What have police officers who breastfeed done in the past? What do you think is a reasonable time before breastfeeding officers are required to return to their normal duties?

44 Comment

  • The lactation room should be up to code. The Fox story makes it sound like she’s being punished, in part, for complaining about that, which is a problem. But it does sound like they were trying to accommodate her before that by moving her to desk duty for a while.

    Also, going back to work two months after giving birth is brutal (for some people–obviously everyone’s different). I couldn’t have done it, physically or mentally, but am extremely lucky to have a more generous maternity leave policy and to be financially able to take some leave without pay. I feel for this woman; she is in a very tough place right now.

  • me

    Yes, but on the other hand, does anyone really breastfeed after 1 year? I know 6mo + is the norm, but over a year? Sounds a bit excessive.

    • Does anyone really breastfeed after 1 year? YES

      Excessive? NO

      Breastfeeding is THE BEST FOOD for a young baby! Infants should be, whenever possible (i.e. not barred because of medical reasons) be breastfed exclusively for 6 months, and in addition to other food for at least a year. (http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/faq/index.htm)

      After one year, breastfeeding serves the purpose of a) continuing to provide important antibodies to children which help them ward off illness and balance their own body chemistry and b) maintaining an intimate relationship between mother and child.

      My first child breastfed (in public, GASP!) until she was two years old, and my second child breastfed until she was about a year and a half (she chose to stop on her own). This is absolutely normal healthy behavior in young children. Indeed, there is LOADS of evidence that breastfeeding for longer works to reduce obesity and help maintain better health in children. Finally, why in the world would I spend THOUSANDS of DOLLARS to purchase formula when my own body MAKES what I need, for free!

      And please please please remember that you will see more boob in a movie poster than when a breastfeeding mother is nursing. Unless of course you are staring like an idiot.

      Women do not breastfeed for long enough in the US. Period. And much of the reason why is that people gawk and make them feel uncomfortable. So women who don’t have to for medical reasons end up spending thousands on a product that is not as good as our own body makes to feed children because. . . other people are uncomfortable with it? And because we have pathetic maternity leave in this country?

      Ugh. Rant complete.

      • I second everything in that rant.

      • me

        Jesus, calm down. It was a question. I have friends with children that say the guidelines are at least 6 months. However, having a 2-year-old that is not on somewhat solid foods seems a bit strange to me. That’s all.

        • the problem is that many people feel like you do. thats why it might seem like people freak out. it’s hard to correct the lack of education about it.

          • me

            Well, my husband and I are working on the whole getting pregnant thing. So when I have to deal with it, I’ll do my research. Until then, it was just a question, because I was going off of what my acquaintences have done. I don’t care to hear research stats and studies right now- just a couple sentences or an anecdote is fine.

          • she summarized her points in the first 2 sentences. you really didn’t need to read beyond that. or insult her.

          • me

            I did not insult her. At all. You are either reading way too far into anything I wrote or you are quite fragile.

        • Note: Breastfeeding and solid foods are not mutually exclusive. Children should be solely breastfed until they are six months, at which point solids can be introduced. By one year, children will be getting MOST of their nutrition from solids. But, as I indicated above, breastfeeding after one year has all sorts of other benefits.

    • My kid still nurses 1-2 times a day at 19 months. She was going strong until 11 months and started slowing down after that.

      Everyone’s different. Some mothers cannot do it for very long while others can go well past two years. To each their own….

      The access to a sanitary room is not a new issue; I have had friends who have been forced to basically pump in the bathroom. The law states employers of a certain size have to offer a space, but that space may be a 15-minute walk from the employee’s desk, meaning they cannot pump for more than a few minutes.

      What is highlighted here for me is that the MPD treat new mothers just as poorly as lots of other employers in the US. Lots of us grin and bear it and try to get by, but kudos to her for tacking a stance.

  • I’m confused by the wording of the Fox story. Are new moms’ being singled out to wear bulletproof vests in situations/places where they wouldn’t usually or is that just the policy that all police officers wear vests on duty and the moms are upset that they have to continue wearing them?

    • I’m assuming it’s that they all need to wear them. I’m unsure why they would force new mothers to wear bullet proof vests.

      • I was just confused if there was supposed to be implied sex discrimination in the story or not. But if its a requirement that officers wear vests then everyone has to wear the vests including new mothers. If they cannot fulfill the basic requirements of the job, then they need to take leave (paid or unpaid) until they can fulfill said requirements again.

        • +1

          If one can’t live up to the requirements of the job they should never have taken the job in the first place.

    • I think that was the point. She’s trying to pump in a room that is most likely disgusting. I doubt she has the kid there with her. If she did, she could just nurse anywhere she wanted to…

      You can nurse in public, but pumping… not likely.

  • I’m a huge advocate for breastfeeding (huge, but not a “nazi” about it), but there’s a practicality issue here. If she wasn’t offered a desk job, that’s one thing. But it doesn’t seem like you can be a beat cop and breastfeed. Those “scheduled breaks” would probably put someone at risk because she couldn’t be present. And, to not follow safety standards because it’s physically painful makes you unfit for a job.

  • If she’s unable to meet the requirements of her job (such as use the required safety equipment because of tender nipples) then she’s not ready to come back to work. It sounds like she needs the paycheck (which I totally understand) but thinks she should be “accommodated” to the point that she’s being paid to just sit quietly in a room with her baby.

    • +1. If she’s being punished for complaining about the condition of the room, that’s not okay. But being a cop involves physical requirements and if you can’t meet them, I’m not sure what else the department is supposed to do. It’s not their fault she is out of paid leave, surely?

      Of course, the Fox5 story is so poorly written that I can’t really understand the full situation.

  • andy

    if the vest is a job requirement, and it probably is, i’m not sure how you get out of it.

  • The articles might have answered this, but was she offered desk work for the time that she was unable to wear her safety gear? I think that she should be given the same accommodation as someone who had sprained an ankle. Some other work to do until she is physically able to meet the requirements of the job.
    As for space to pump: there are basic standards for a lactation room, and they’re BASIC. No organization should have trouble meeting them.

  • I am confused about the “sanitary conditions” of the nursing room? what exactly do you need other than clean breasts? As long as its private it good enough. Women who CHOOSE to nurse usually make it work anywhere without special rooms. this is just dumb.

    • Only requirement is that an employer provide a room with a door other than a bathroom

      • …? But it’s illegal to require women to nurse in a specific space. Women have the legal right to nurse anywhere they are allowed to be.

        • We’re talking about pumping, not nursing.

          Of course you can “make it work anywhere” if you have your baby handy. For those you CAN’T bring their babies to work, they need privacy, an electrical outlet, basic sanitary conditions, and a refrigerator.

    • The room looked like a Greyhound bathroom. It was a nasty place to trasnfer food for your baby into a container. It would be like prepping food in a bathroom. I don’t thinkt hey want a 5 star hotel type sitting room just a place that didn’t look as nasty as the one I saw on tv.

      It’s funny that people want the human race to keep going but seem to get so pissy that the people who make it happen want a bit of leeway when they first pop out the new little being.

  • The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, enacted March 23, 2010, requires employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide unpaid reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for a year after her child’s birth.

    As for the requirements for room, the only thing the law says is they have to offer something other than a bathroom and a room w/ a door. There are really no other requirements.

    • Well, as you posted below, the room has to be sanitary. If it’s not, like she says, then they ought to make it so.

  • Between this and the DCFD, all I have to say is, WOW you mean the country, once faced with budget cuts, is finally realizing that there being no comprehensive national maternity policy in any way (i don’t count FMLA) is not working out. Go figure!

    Having lived in another country, it truly is ridiculous that this country can’t figure out how to integrate women – who do sometimes have babies – fully in to the work force. It’s nuts.

  • @PhartN and @Me, she presumably is pumping. When you leave your baby at home to work, you maintain your breastfeeding supplying by pumping, or to alleviate the discomfort of full breasts, you have to pump.

    NO ONE brings their baby into work to breastfeed when they go back to work. It’s just boobs and a pump. Hopefully in the privacy of your office but if not, a lactation room.

    Yeah, it sounds like they got annoyed that she complained about the lactation room. There is no excuse for having a lactation room that’s not up to code because it truly requires super basic needs.

  • Everyone keeps tossing about the word ‘code’ well here is the ‘code’ for a lactation room:

    D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1402.81 et seq. amend the Human Rights Act of 1977 to include breastfeeding as part of the definition of discrimination on the basis of sex, to ensure a woman’s right to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where she has the right to be with her child. The law provides that breastfeeding is not a violation of indecent exposure laws. The law also specifies that an employer shall provide reasonable daily unpaid break periods, as required by the employee, so that the employee may express breast milk for her child. These break periods shall run concurrently with any break periods that may already be provided to the employee. Requires that an employer make reasonable efforts to provide a sanitary room or other location, other than a bathroom or toilet stall, where an employee can express her breast milk in privacy and security. The location may include a childcare facility in close proximity to the employee’s work location. (2007 D.C. Stat., Chap. 17-58; B 133)

    • I believe the federal supersedes the District statute, but its effectively the same:
      “(1) An employer shall provide–
      (A) a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk; and
      (B) 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.
      (2) An employer shall not be required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time under paragraph (1) for any work time spent for such purpose.
      (3) An employer that employs less than 50 employees shall not be subject to the requirements of this subsection, if such requirements would impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.
      (4) Nothing in this subsection shall preempt a State law that provides greater protections to employees than the protections provided for under this subsection.”

      Sound to me the issue here is that they are refusing to keep her on desk duty while her breasts are still tender and thus in pain from a bullet proof vest. I’ve worn one before and they aren’t exactly comfortable on a non-nursing, modestly-chested young woman. The put perfectly capable officers on desk duty while they’re under investigation (and in some cases, I believe, being indicted) for breaking the law or abusing their position, and as other have mentioned, those who sprain their ankles or have other injuries where they can still come to work, but not in the same capacity as a beat officer. Its a shame that being a new mother is treated as disability in this country, even more so when that disability is not treated the same as others.

      • “Its a shame that being a new mother is treated as disability in this country,”

        actually it sounds like she’s trying to treat it that way.

        • It can be just like having your period or other things can disable you temporarily from being at full functioning capacity. It doesn’t happen to everyone and some can keep going but others need a bit more time to bounce back.

          Good post cottontail

  • I went into a District HQ yesterday and not a single individual was wearing a vest. I saw at least 15 police officers.

    • me

      I’m sure they mean when they’re out on duty, they have to wear a vest. Not while sitting at their desks.

  • If the MPD wanted their officers to have kids, they would issue them.

  • I have no sympathy for this woman. The job has reasonably accommodated her as much as possible and now she needs to get back to work or take leave. My job requires me to travel, so I am having to factor that into our plans to have a child and how long I will be able to breastfeed. If I could be a stay at home mom, I would, but since i have to work I am just going to have to make it work with my chosen profession. No one forced her to become a police officer.

  • As a working, breastfeeding mom (4 month old, and I had to go back after 10 weeks), I have to pump several times a day, and when I have to go an extra couple of hours before I pump, I feel like I have boulders on my chest. I cannot imagine wearing a metal plate binding me when I can’t even handle underwire right now. The pain is great, and when the breast is compressed like that, it can cause clogged milk ducts, infection, etc.

    The lady in question was on desk duty for two months and asked to continue it for 8 more (when the baby would be 1 year), and mpd instead put her on the beat, where it’s harder to pump and she has to wear a vest.

    It costs at least $1000 a year to feed a baby formula, and sometimes, even more if the baby has GERD or allergies to common formula ingredients. Almost never is a baby allergic to breast milk. Do the math. Pumping is tedious, but in the end, it’s totally worth it emotionally, medically, and financially.

  • this issues scares me because we’re talking about the police in a town that already is in need of more officers out on the street.

  • Any room in any workplace, except maybe the mop closet or storage room, should be clean enough for any worker to take a break. Isn’t that the point of workplace equality? Feeding or pumping or just eating a Snickers – you’re not licking the floor. Decent sanitary standards should be fine. Chill the hell out.

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