Breastfeeding in public can be stressful, especially for new mothers. And not all establishments are supportive. Washington State law protects a woman’s right to breast-feed in public, and federal law supports breastfeeding in the work place. Both state and federal laws dictate that bathrooms are not acceptable locations for breastfeeding, however.
The Breastfeeding Coalition of Lewis County is on a mission to promote and support early and continued breastfeeding. The coalition offers education and resources to Lewis County parents and businesses. Rachel Lomedico is the coalition’s enthusiastic co-chair. She and husband, Curtis Foote, are doulas, professional birthing assistants. “I always wanted to be a doula,” Rachel tells me, “but it wasn’t something I was sure about until after the birth of our third child.”
Rachel and Curtis have been doulas in the Olympia area for three years now but only opened their Centralia office, along with a baby boutique, a year and half ago. “We live down here and weren’t doing anything for the community, so we decided to open an office here and sell some baby items to fill a gap in the community. That kind of got out of hand,” Rachel laughs and then gestures at the wide variety of merchandise in her baby boutique. “And the shop accidentally became a learning hub and meeting space, too.”
In a comfortable room at the back of the shop, Rachel and Curtis teach classes for moms and dads in breastfeeding and childbirth education. They also run support groups for breastfeeding, lactation, cesarean support and baby-wearing. Recently, it also became the temporary meeting place for the Lewis County Breastfeeding Coalition.
“As a coalition we are very sensitive to education for the whole family, not just moms,” Rachel says. “We help breastfeeding moms know their rights in the workplace and in public.” She shows me a blue sticker in her shop window, an illustration of a breastfeeding family. “Businesses can put this sticker on their front door or window to let people know that it’s a breastfeeding-friendly location. A nursing mother will then know that she won’t be harassed in that shop,” Rachel suggests.
August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month and coalition members are working hard to spread the word. Recently, they set up a booth at the Community Farmers Market in Chehalis where they provided information and held a raffle.
“The great thing about the coalition is that it’s getting resources and community members together to bring awareness for the importance of breastfeeding. If you’re a mother or a parent who’s interested in breastfeeding, or a relative who’s supportive of breastfeeding, we’re here for you. We’ll stick up for you if you need help,” Rachel explains.
Breastfeeding in the workplace is another important issue for the coalition. Most women in Lewis County work, and although some jobs provide maternity leave, others require women to go back to work after as little as three days. The breastfeeding coalition educates employers about the benefits of women breastfeeding on the job. There are many advantages. For example, breastfeeding mothers have healthier children and take less sick days. They also tend to be happier at work.
“We have a training module for employers describing what an appropriate space looks like for breastfeeding because you can’t just tell a mom to pump in the bathroom; that’s against the law. You have to provide a reasonable space with access to power,” Rachel suggests.
Many employers have never considered the issues associated with having a breastfeeding mother on the job. The coalition helps business owners understand their rights and responsibilities to nursing mothers.
“We suggest that pregnant women talk with their employers during pregnancy,” Rachel says, “so they can set up a plan well ahead of time and not be worried when returning to work.”
To learn more about Rachel and Curtis’ classes and support groups for parents, go to the Compass Birthing Services website or call 360-269-5563. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Contact them also if you would like to get a breastfeeding-friendly sticker to put on your business’ door or window.