SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- The city of San Francisco may make it easier for working mothers who breastfeed their children at work if the Board of Supervisors approve a measure to require employers to provide lactation stations.
Nursing mothers rallied Tuesday on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to support a plan by Supervisor Katy Tang, which she says would make it easier for working mothers to pump breast milk while at work.
A recent report by the Public Health Department found that breastfeeding rates among women in San Francisco were lowest among those at the bottom of the income scale.
Under Tang's proposal, public and private businesses in the city would be required to provide a quiet spot for employees to pump breast milk.
"State and federal law don't spell out anything," she said. "Basically, all that state and federal law says is you can't pump on the toilet."
Tang said she was spurred to act after one of her aide's returned to work after giving birth 18 months ago.
The assistant, Ashley Summers, said she was able to use a lactation room at City Hall that was installed by Supervisor Malia Cohen. Summers said she wanted to make it easier for new moms in similar circumstances who don't work at City Hall.
"When I started using this room I was like, wow, I would not be doing this if I had to be fighting for a time in a conference room," she said.
Under the proposal, lactation spaces would have to be private, free of toxins and have a shelf and electrical outlets to accommodate a breast pump. The station would also have to have a sink, chair and refrigerator to store breast milk.
"In our society where we sexualize breasts, (it) is essential that women have a private place to do this, where they are comfortable," said Supervisor Sandra Fewer.
"I found obstacles kind of advocating for myself and getting a clean place to pump," said Andrea Willcox, a breastfeeding mother, who works part-time as a teacher. "It's been stressful. I had to go through a classroom with kids in it, like in a class, to a storage room that had like rat traps and it was super dusty. I've been walked in on in people's offices" while pumping.
"It's a challenge but if it makes our employees' lives better we're 100 percent behind it," said Terrance Alan, who owns Cafe Flore on Market Street in the Castro District.
Although Alan says his restaurant is small, he's already thought of a space that would accommodate the station.
"We have an employee bathroom here," he said while walking through the space. "So we would clear this area out probably put a little partition wall in."
"It could be a situation where the manager might lend their office space to a lactating mom just for the duration that it takes her to pump," said Tang, who is open to exemptions for businesses that have a financial hardship or don't have the space to accommodate a permanent station.
The legislation would also require all future commercial buildings to include a lactation space.
Tang was able to pass a similar breastfeeding law for city workers last year and soon after the city installed a lactation pod in the basement of City Hall.
Tang hopes someday all working moms will have a choice, so they have the option of breastfeeding while at work.
By KTVU reporter Tara Moriarty.