LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Health Department has set up a breast-feeding room for new mothers on its staff, and it’s urging local companies to do the same.
The department sent out a package of information last month to the largest employers in Niagara County, calling on them to make the space available. So far, seven have said yes, according to Elise K. Pignatora, the department’s public health resource and Strategic National Stockpile support officer, who is one of two certified lactation counselors on the staff.
Those seven companies are GM Components Holdings and Diversified Manufacturing in Lockport; Seneca Niagara Casino and Parmed Pharmaceuticals in Niagara Falls; the Falls locations of Walmart and Wegmans; and Chemours, a Niagara Falls chemical plant that announced Tuesday that it will be closing.
State and federal laws require employers to allow “reasonable” time to young mothers to pump breast milk. Pignatora said, and there are regulations about the facilities that a breast-feeding room is supposed to have.
“Employees are to be provided with a private space that is not a restroom. It must be free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, so it should lock,” Pignatora said. “Federal law says accommodations should be provided for one year, but New York State law went above and beyond. It requires that for three years after the birth of a child.”
The room also must be equipped with a refrigerator that isn’t used for anything else, a sink and two hospital-grade breast pumps, according to the Health Department.
Pigantora admitted, “Sometimes it requires some creative thought.” The lactation room doesn’t have to be used exclusively for that purpose, though.
“For example, a fast-food restaurant could utilize the manager’s office for those times when they need to express milk,” Pignatora said.
Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said the Health Department’s room, which initially was on the second floor of the Shaw Building, the department’s Lockport headquarters, is being moved to the basement in a reshuffle of offices, but it’s open to visitors as well as the staff. The building also is home to the county Mental Health Department, which offers clinics there. The department opened the breast milk room about six months ago, Stapleton said.
Breast milk time does not have to be paid time, Pignatora said, “although it’s left up to the employers’ discretion … Most women would need to express milk, in those early stages when it’s still exclusive breast milk, about every two to three hours for approximately 20 minutes.”
Stapleton said, “There is ample evidence that women are more likely to continue breast-feeding when their employers have supportive policies and practices in place.”
A healthier baby means that parents need to take less time off for visits to the pediatrician, she added.
“We’re trying to change the culture and make it a norm,” Pignatora said. “It’s been an existing law since 2010, but us shining the light on it and showing support will hopefully make it so employees feel very comfortable bringing up that conversation with their employers and knowing they have the support to be able to make it work.”
The Health Department has a 24-hour telephone support line at 439-7464 for workers and employers with questions.