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May 12, 2023

Breastfeeding mothers need more spaces to feed their babies and pump milk, Philly councilmember says

A proposal from Katherine Gilmore Richardson would require city facilities, including libraries and recreation centers, to have designated lactation rooms

Government Breastfeeding
Lactation Spaces Kate Collins/Ithaca Journal/Imagn Content Services

All Philadelphia-owned buildings would need to include dedicated spaces for people to breastfeed or pump milk under a proposed ordinance. Above is a lactation room at an airport in Ithaca, New York.

All city-owned buildings would be mandated to have dedicated lactation spaces for people to breastfeed and pump milk under a newly-proposed ordinance.

The legislation, introduced by City Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson, would require the city's Department of Public Property, along with other city agencies, to create lactation spaces for city employees and, in some cases, members of the public in all city-owned facilities. That includes government buildings, libraries, recreation centers and parks. 

"As a working mom, I'm proud to introduce legislation that will reduce the burden parents face when returning from parental leave," Gilmore Richardson said in an emailed press release. "With the city of Philadelphia being the sixth largest U.S. city by population and one of the largest employers in our region, it is essential that we help parents find workplace balance." 

Existing facilities that do not have permanent lactation rooms would be required to designate spaces that can be prioritized as lactation spaces for employees that need to pump, the bill states. Such spaces would need signs indicating they cannot be disturbed while in use. 

Any newly-constructed or renovated building would be required to have lactation spaces – defined as clean spaces that are shielded from public view and free from intrusion. Each space must include at least one electrical outlet, a flat surface and be located close to an area with running water. It may not be a restroom. 

If passed, the ordinance would take effect about six months later. Each January, the Department of Public Property would be required to file a report listing any newly-constructed buildings and the number and locations of lactation spaces within them. 

"Whether you're on the job, participating in jury duty, or at the park or library with your family, we must create safe spaces around our city that allow birthing people to breastfeed or pump with dignity and respect," Gilmore Richardson said.

Philadelphia has long supported breastfeeding mothers. In 1997, it became the first city in the United States to legally protect the right to breastfeed in public. In 2011, former Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order requiring city employers to provide safe, dedicated spaces for breastfeeding and to allow people to take breaks to breastfeed or pump. 

The city's Fair Practices Ordinance was amended in 2014, requiring that public and private employers provide clean, sanitary places for employees who need to express breast milk. And in 2016, all public restrooms in Philadelphia were mandated to have baby changing stations. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most babies, noting it helps protect them against some short- and long-term diseases and illness. Breastfeeding also may reduce the mother's risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life before introducing solid foods. In a report issued last summer, the organization also advocated for supporting parents that choose to continue breastfeeding through the first two years of a child's life. 

"Human milk is all a baby needs for the first six months of life," said Joan Younger Meek, lead author of the report. "Breast milk is unique in its nutrients and protective effects, and really quite remarkable when you look at what it does for a child's developing immune system. Not everyone can breastfeed or continue breastfeeding for as long as desired for various reasons, including workplace barriers. Families deserve nonjudgemental support, information and help to guide them in feeding their infant." 

The AAP cites stigma, lack of support and workplace barriers as obstacles that hinder breastfeeding and recommends policies that protect breastfeeding, like paid maternity leave and universal workplace break times for breastfeeding and pumping. 

Other cities have moved to provide lactation rooms and break times for breastfeeding and pumping, including New York City, which updated its 2007 law in December. The law protects employees from retaliation for exercising their rights to breastfeed or pump in the workplace. 

Last month, the federal Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, also known as PUMP, went to effect nationwide. The law gives more workers the right to break times and private spaces to pump. The legislation gained support last year amid a national baby formula shortage.