Nicole DeForest, a secretary with the Delaware's Division of Facilities Management, says she was unable to keep breast-feeding after the facilities she was offered as places to pump at work -- including this closet -- made her uncomfortable. / Submitted photo
WILMINGTON, Del. - A state worker who was told to go pump her breast milk in a storage closet is calling on Delaware's governor to add secure rooms to all state office buildings for mothers to pump breast milk.
Nicole DeForest, a secretary with the state's Division of Facilities Management, has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing her supervisor of failing to provide adequate accommodations for her to express breast milk as required under federal law.
DeForest planned on nursing her now-14-month-old daughter, Elly, for one year. Experts say the hormones, cells and antibodies in breast milk are beneficial to babies, protecting against such things as ear infections, obesity, asthma and diarrhea.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies should be "exclusively" breast-fed during the first six months of life - up to a year is more beneficial.
When DeForest returned from maternity leave to her state job, she found it was nearly impossible to fulfill her goal. She said her supervisor first suggested she use the bathroom, then a utility closet, then a shared office space, then a conference room with tinted windows as a pumping site.
"My milk started to have a hard time coming down," she said. "I was always afraid someone was going to walk in."
After a couple weeks her milk ran dry, forcing her to feed Elly formula.
"I felt like a failure when I stopped," DeForest said.
DeForest said she was shocked that the state of Delaware couldn't follow the law.
Human resources with the Office of Management said they could not comment on the ongoing "personnel matter."
DeForest wrote an online petition to Gov. Jack Markell asking him to declare that all state office buildings have private rooms set aside for mothers to pump breast milk. As of Friday, there were 964 individuals in support of the petition.
The request comes two months after the Delaware legislature passed a bill that would protect pregnant and nursing workers against discrimination. The bill still needs to be signed into law.
Kelly Bachman, spokeswoman for Markell, said the governor's office expects agencies to follow federal fair labor guidelines that afford nursing mothers breaks and privacy accommodations when needed. The office has personally asked OMB to look at the allegations in the petition.
"We are also working with OMB to ensure that nursing mothers are consistently informed of their rights when returning to work and that human resource managers work with supervisors to address accommodation requests," she said.
The National Women's Law Center worked with state legislators to ensure that federal law could be instituted on the state level.
In June, lawmakers passed the provision, stating that pregnant or nursing workers shall be allowed more frequent breaks, periodic rest, assistance, time off to recover from childbirth and appropriate space for pumping breast milk.
"It's unfortunate discrimination still occurs. I think sometimes it's not purposeful discrimination, it's uninformed," said Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, sponsor of the bill.
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