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De Blasio Signs Bill Mandating Lactation Rooms in City Offices

ADA Sign Depot

August 16, 2016

ADA Sign Depot

Mandating Lactation Rooms in City Offices

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After waiting at Brooklyn Housing Court for more than three hours last month, Kiki Valentine realized it was time for her 2-year-old son to have some milk. As she had done so many times before, Ms. Valentine began to nurse her toddler — as discreetly as she could — in the hallway outside the courtroom.

Moments later, a court officer yelled at her, telling her she should cover up because people were complaining, Ms. Valentine said. “You can’t do that here,” she recalled the officer saying.

For many women like Ms. Valentine, finding a comfortable place to nurse a child is not easy; although they have a right to breast-feed anywhere, many say they resort to closets or bathroom stalls. But a new bill signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday will require certain city offices and service centers to provide a lactation room for nursing mothers to use at their choosing.

In a news conference on Thursday, Mr. de Blasio — surrounded by several women holding babies — trumpeted New York as “one of the first cities in the country” to pass such a bill. Other cities with similar legislation include Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Madison, Wis.

Locations under the mandate include job centers, medical assistance program centers, borough offices of the Administration for Children’s Services, and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene centers.

Each room will offer a chair, an electrical outlet and nearby access to running water, and it must not be located within a bathroom, according to the bill.

Mr. de Blasio insisted that the new legislation would not infringe on a woman’s right to nurse in public but said that the existing law “just wasn’t enough,” because women continued to face stigma against breast-feeding in public and should have additional options.

“It’s not right, it’s not fair, it’s not dignified,” Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, said. “Women continue to face barriers to this natural and healthy process.”

Nationally, city offices are beginning to catch up to private employers, which were mandated under the Affordable Care Act of 2013 to provide similar spaces for workers to express breast milk.

The bill, sponsored in part by Councilman Robert E. Cornegy Jr., a Democrat, is the latest in a series of efforts by the mayor to tackle gender disparities in the city. During the news conference, Mr. de Blasio highlighted some of his administration’s accomplishments: universal prekindergarten, paid parental leave and, most recently, free feminine hygiene products in schools.

He also lauded his wife and his “conscience,” Chirlane McCray, for her role in pushing for women’s rights legislation. Ms. McCray said the bill mandating lactation rooms showed that the city was “chipping away at that embarrassment that still surrounds a practice that is literally as old as humanity itself.”

The bill’s signing took place in the midst of National Breastfeeding Month, and days after a series of demonstrations across New York City — from Times Square to Borough Hall in Brooklyn — in which mothers gathered to breast-feed and promote the recent bill.

Ms. Valentine, a resident of Red Hook, Brooklyn, was one of the main organizers of the “Big Latch On” event in front of Borough Hall on Saturday. She praised the bill but said she hoped it would not discourage women from breast-feeding in public.

Recalling her experience in housing court, Ms. Valentine said she was traumatized by the encounter and intended to file a lawsuit. She knew she had a right to breast-feed in public and was under the impression that most New Yorkers were accepting of it.

“After this happened to me,” Ms. Valentine said, “I was like, wow, we actually have a really long way to go.”

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