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Commentary: Breast Feeding 101 for Educators

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“People are more opinionated about parenting issues than political issues,” according to writer, Jennifer Martin.   Admittedly this is an unusual subject for me to address, but it has become a frequently asked question by our female educators.  Hopefully this clears up the issue for school boards, administrators, teachers and school staff.

Health professionals and public health officials promote breastfeeding to improve infant health. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding exclusively for about six months, “followed by continued breast-feeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breast-feeding for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.”

Tennessee has one of the lowest rates of breast-feeding in the nation, according to the government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Fewer than 16 percent of Tennessee infants are being breast-fed exclusively at six months old, according to the most recent statistics. Surrounding states are much higher, and in some states – mainly in the Pacific Northwest – the rate is extremely high.

It is important to note that 82% of public school teachers are female in Tennessee. Women are the predominate sex in our profession. More importantly, most of these women are of child bearing age.  So this is an important topic for all stakeholders. Breastfeeding also provides long-term preventative effects for the mother, including an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight and a reduced risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and osteoporosis.

Here are the appropriate state laws.

  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-58-101 et seq. (2006, 2011) permits a mother to breastfeed in any location, public or private, that the mother is authorized to be, and prohibits local governments from criminalizing or restricting breastfeeding.
  • Specifies that the act of breastfeeding shall not be considered public indecency as defined by § 39-13-511; or nudity, obscene, or sexual conduct as defined in § 39-17-901.
  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-58-101 et seq. and § 39-13-511(d) were amended in 2011 by Tenn. Pub. Acts, Chap. 91 (SB 83) to remove a provision permitting mothers to breastfeed only infants 12 months or younger in any location. (2006 Tenn. Law, Chap. 617; HB 3582)
  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-305 (1999) requires employers to provide daily unpaid break time for a mother to express breast milk for her infant child.
  • Employers are also required to make a reasonable effort to provide a private location, other than a toilet stall, in close proximity to the workplace for this activity. (1999 Tenn. Law, Chap. 161; SB 1856).

President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on March 30, 2010. (See the combined full text of Public Laws 111-148 and 111-152 here.)  Among many provisions, Section 4207 of the law amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 (29 U.S. Code 207) to require an employer to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express milk. The employer is not required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time for any work time spent for such purpose.

The employer must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to express breast milk.  If these requirements impose undue hardship, an employer that employs fewer than 50 employees is not subject to these requirements. The federal requirements shall not preempt a state law that provides greater protections to employees.

For more information:

In addition, many health insurance plans provide coverage for specified women’s preventive health services with no cost sharing (e.g., copayment, coinsurance, or deductible). Breastfeeding support, supplies and lactation counseling are one of these specified preventive services.

As a member, if you believe your school district is not following the law on this issue, feel free to contact our offices at 615-778-0803 to speak to an attorney or simply email legal@proedtn.org.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. Follow him on social media via Twitter at @jcbowman.

 

 

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