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Like Teachers, Students With Babies Struggle to Pump Milk at School. Illinois Is Trying to Help.


Finding the time, space, and support to pump breast milk is among the greatest challenges for new mothers who work as teachers.

"When I got pregnant, people said don't worry about breast-feeding," Tanya Reyes, who previously taught at Metropolitan High School in Los Angeles, told me for a recent Education Week piece. "Teachers give up; it's too hard."

The stories of teachers pumping hurriedly in their classrooms and supply closets will resonate with many new mothers who've struggled to keep up breast-feeding after heading back to work. (They certainly resonated with me.)

Now, a new law in Illinois seeks to make pumping easier for another demographic of new moms in schools: students.

Under a bill signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner last month, public schools will need to provide public school students who are lactating "reasonable accommodations" for expressing breast milk, including access to a private and secure room (that's not a bathroom), permission to bring a pump on campus, a power source and place to store milk, and time to use the facility.

The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, also states that students "may not incur an academic penalty as a result of her use, during the school day, of the reasonable accommodations specified ... and must be provided the opportunity to make up any work missed due to such use."

Many school districts lack policies on how to accommodate pumping teachers—but the situation may be even worse for students who need to pump. A report looking at more than 80 school districts in Los Angeles County found that just 17 percent had lactation-accommodations policies for students (33 percent had policies for employees). 

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune on the new legislation, "Some [Illinois] school districts said they're already making accommodations for nursing mothers but will solidify policies to comply with the new law. The statute doesn't specify whether others, including teachers or staff, can use the nursing room available to students."

Photo: Former teacher Dawn Von Tersch nurses her son, Jack, 1, at her home in Fort Smith, Ark.—Shane Bevel for Education Week

See also: 'Would You Mind If I Pumped in Here?' Breast-Feeding Teachers Lack Accommodations

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