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Our View...From stigma to support

In 1998, the Minnesota State Legislature passed an amendment to its ordinance governing indecent exposure that exempted breast-feeding women from criminal prosecution. Minnesota Statute 617.23 protects a woman from being criminally charged with indecent exposure for breast-feeding in public.

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Further, Minnesota Statute 145.905 gives women the right to “breast-feed in any public or private location where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breast-feeding.”

The need to pass such legislation would suggest that prior to that time, the sight of a woman breast-feeding her baby in public did not sit well with everyone. In fact, it was very likely taboo in the days of our mothers and grandmothers, who only breast-fed their babies behind closed doors.

Anyone who has ever raised an infant will know, however, that it is a full-time commitment that more and more women have opted to discontinue as they headed back into the workplace not long after their babies were born. And yet, the well-documented benefits of breast- feeding to both mother and child are indisputable.

Fast forward to 2014.  

Following the lead of federal legislation that came out of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and abiding by the directives of Minnesota State Ordinance 181.939, the Carlton County Board this week enacted a Lactation Support Policy for Breast-feeding Employees.

Essentially, the new policy gives female employees who choose to continue breast-feeding their children after they go back to work opportunity to utilize their break times to breast-feed or express milk during those times. It also mandates that county employers designate a private lactation room (other than a restroom) for female employees to do so, and adds that women and their spouses or partners are eligible to secure advice on breastfeeding equipment and education from trained public health nurses.

In some ways, this combines the best of all worlds. For those who are uncomfortable breast-feeding in public — and those who are uncomfortable seeing it — it affords female employees a dedicated, private space to breast-feed or express breast milk for later use. And in so doing, it endorses and legitimizes the practice of breastfeeding by working mothers and provides an atmosphere of support for breast-feeding employees.

It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but let’s hope this is just the beginning of a movement that will grow and expand to include employees at other public and private entities as well.

A generation of babies is counting on it.

Wendy Johnson