COLUMBIA—Working mothers who currently breastfeed their babies or plan to in the future won a victory with a bill recently signed into law by Gov. Henry McMaster.
The new legislation, known as the “South Carolina Lactation Support Act,” requires employers to provide female employees a clean room or space to express breast milk in privacy, and also to provide reasonable time for a woman to do so.
The requirement will be a game changer for many women who need to pump breast milk during the work day, but have had to resort to sitting in bathroom stalls because there is no designated place available.
The bill passed both the House and state Senate on nearly unanimous votes and was signed into law on June 25.
Under the Act (www.scstatehouse.gov/sess123_2019-2020/bills/3200.htm), employers must allow employees to use paid or unpaid break time, or meal times, to express breast milk during the work day. Women employees must be given access to either a separate room or a designated space.
The act does not require an employer to construct a permanent dedicated space for expressing milk, and they are not required to provide break time if doing so would create “an undue hardship on the operations of the employer.”
Employers have until Aug. 25 to comply with the new legislation. Employers who violate the new law can be reported to the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission.
The new rules will help relieve some stress for working mothers who are also nursing, which is important because stress can sometimes affect a mom’s ability to produce the milk her child needs, according to Kathy Schmugge, director of the diocesan Office of Family Life.
“Breastfeeding is natural and it’s good for kids, and we don’t want moms in the workforce to not be able to do what is good and natural for their children,” Schmugge said. “Too many times moms have to use bathroom stalls which aren’t sanitary. Having a clean and private space makes a difference because it helps a mom to relax.”
Theresa Barnett, of Greenville, knows first-hand the challenges that face new mothers who choose to breastfeed. She was a teacher at Prince of Peace School in Taylors but left the workplace after giving birth to her daughter seven months ago. Barnett said she chose breastfeeding because of the health benefits it offers to babies, and also because it helps the bonding process between mother and child.
She is fortunate to be able to stay home with her daughter now, she said, but even in the home setting she has learned quickly about the challenges and demands of breastfeeding.
“I can’t imagine having to be a working mom and also breastfeeding, so I’m glad that this bill has passed to help the women that are [doing both],” Barnett said.
“Women should not feel ashamed for putting their vocation as a mother first, and they should be helped and supported if they have to work and feed their young children,” she added. “Our culture needs to be more open to what it means to be pro-life, in every sense of the phrase, which includes providing a clean space and adequate time for women to do what is best for their babies.”
To learn more about how the new law affects employers and employees, visit https://bit.ly/3j7oVyA.