September 21, 2016

By Melissa Goodman and Katia Carter

School is back in session, and by now, many students and teachers have returned to their classrooms to new and improved lactation accommodations policies. Based on the recently updated study the ABC’s of Breastfeeding by the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), BreastfeedLA and the California Women’s Law Center, 48 percent of Los Angeles County school districts have made improvements to lactation accommodations in at least one evaluated area since the report’s initial release in 2015. Download the updated report card (.pdf)

These improvements to policies and accessibility of required contact information have raised L.A. County’s average letter grade from a “D” to a “C” in 2016. Eight school districts received an “A” grade for meeting all of the lactation accommodations requirements -- a significant increase from the sole school district, Torrance Unified, that scored an “A” in 2015.

But problems persist. Fewer than a quarter, 22 percent, of L.A. County school districts have policies on lactation accommodations for students, and only about half of the 81 districts have a designated Title IX coordinator identifiable by phone or the school district’s website. This is surprising given a new California law, Assembly Bill 302, which went in effect in January. AB 302 reaffirms the right of parenting students in California schools to reasonable lactation accommodations and gives clear guidance to schools about how to provide those accommodations.

The school districts’ overall improvements show that support for lactation accommodations in education is trending in the right direction, but we are still far from our goal of 100 percent compliance to truly impact breastfeeding duration rates and remove barriers to breastfeeding in our community.

The ABC’s of Breastfeeding findings support the dire need for stronger lactation accommodations implementation in our schools. The report card also backs recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that most states are not yet meeting the Healthy People 2020 breastfeeding duration and exclusivity targets for six months duration as recommended by major health organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Further, only 40 percent of nursing parents have access to both adequate break time and a private space in which to express milk as required by law. There is a significant drop-off in breastfeeding around three months when many parents return to the workplace. Improving workplace and school lactation accommodations to better support working parents creates healthier families and thriving communities.

Our non-profit organizations issued the first study in 2015 after regularly fielding complaints from both nursing students and employees about a lack of workplace lactation accommodations, and discrimination surrounding breastfeeding and expressing breastmilk. The number of inquiries we received from people in the education field was alarming. We were saddened to hear about the lack of support breastfeeding parents in education were facing, and that ultimately, they were giving up on breastfeeding, and leaving the school environment as a result of the discrimination.

We hope the positive momentum in Los Angeles County school districts continues. Download the report and see how your school district fares.

Melissa Goodman is director of the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California; Katia Carter is program manager – Workplace Lactation at Breastfeed LA.