State Legislation Surrounding Breastfeeding Accommodations for Parenting Students

August 03, 2017|2:58 p.m.| ASTHO State Health Policy Staff

Public health practitioners and advocates celebrate National Breastfeeding Month in August. The theme this year, Charting the Course Together, aims to “build and reinforce the connections between breastfeeding and a broad spectrum of other health topics and initiatives.”

One such area of connection that has drawn the attention of state law makers is expanding breastfeeding accommodations for parenting students. While workplace accommodation requirements and improving breastfeeding practices in maternity hospitals are making an impact, the unique needs of pregnant and parenting students may not be fully addressed through these efforts. The ACLU of Nebraska surveyed 251 school districts across the state and found inconsistent and ad hoc breastfeeding accommodations and other policies create barriers for adolescent parents to remain in school.

Supportive policies to promote educational achievement for adolescent parents have long-term, and even multi-generational, benefits. Pregnancy is the leading cause of school dropout for adolescent girls, and less than 2 percent of mothers who had children before the age of 18 earn a college degree by age 30. This gap in education translates into lower lifetime earnings. Additionally, the children of teenage mothers are more likely to drop out of school, themselves. With a growing body of research connecting low levels of income and education to poor health outcomes, supporting pregnant and parenting teens is a vital public health intervention.

In 2015, California enacted the first law addressing lactation policies for students, when state lawmakers required public schools and charter schools to provide reasonable accommodations to lactating pupils, including access to a private and secure space, other than a restroom, to express milk or breastfeed, with a power source, and a place to store expressed milk safely. In addition, schools had to ensure students had permission to bring necessary equipment, such as breast pumps and could take reasonable amounts of time to express breastmilk or breastfeed without facing academic penalties.

On May 8th, Gov. Ricketts signed LB 427 (2017). This law requires school boards of each school district to adopt a policy for the 2018-19 school year to provide for standards and guidance to accommodate absences related to pregnancy and childcare for pregnant and parenting students. One of the minimum requirements is for schools to provide appropriate facilities and accommodations for milk expression and storage. The new law also clarified that the existing right of mothers in Nebraska to breastfeed in any public or private location they are otherwise allowed to be applies to a student attending a public or a private school. To assist districts meet these requirements, the Department of Education may develop and distribute a model policy and may provide training for teachers, counselors, and other administrative staff.

State health agencies play a critical role as these policies are implemented. In California, the Department of Public Health (CDPH) has engaged the California Department of Education, the Association of California School Administrators, California School Boards Association, and the California School Based Health Alliance to support their efforts in implementing lactation accommodations for their students and shared best practices from their work implementing workplace lactation accommodations. In addition, CDPH convened the Reducing Breastfeeding Disparities in California through Lactation Accommodation workgroup, which provides a forum for members to compile and share resources for all breastfeeding women, including students. Finally, the CDPH supports expectant and parenting students more directly, through comprehensive case management with a key goal of increasing educational attainment. A critical component of this work is partnering with school districts to ensure that young parents have the resources they need, including lactation accommodation and childcare, to be successful in school.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS) Division of Public Health (DPH) is collaborating with Nebraska Department of Education officials on implementation of LB 427.  Public Health staff are assisting with drafting a model policy for the State Board of Education to consider. If a model policy is adopted, information will be distributed via a listserv of school nurses maintained by Public Health, along with other distribution means used by Education.  Public Health also has other resources for school officials to consider making available to pregnant and/or parenting students, such as information on breastfeeding, safe sleep practices, and adoption of a crying plan.

Lawmakers in Illinois and Rhode Island considered bills this session to expand breastfeeding accommodations to students. While the bill did not advance in Rhode Island, it passed both the House and Senate in Illinois and is awaiting action by Gov. Rauner. ASTHO will continue to monitor these and other efforts to promote breastfeeding.