Why the barista can't breast-feed

Corporate culture eliminates the breast-feeding option for low-income mothers.

Published September 1, 2006 10:47PM (EDT)

Mega-companies like Starbucks may provide new moms at corporate headquarters with swanky "Lactation Rooms" stocked with a breast pump and current magazines, but post-delivery, your local barista likely retreats to the cafe's public restrooms for a lunchtime pumping break, the New York Times reports. That this interesting look at the two-tier corporate breast-feeding system remained the Times' top e-mailed story Friday shows just how heated the subject of breast-feeding has become.

But thankfully, this Times story balances the usual media coverage that too often revolves around sloganeering, like "breast is best," without considering nursing moms' actual circumstances. Brittany Moore, a Starbucks barista in Manhattan, told the Times that she'd internalized the pro-breast-feeding argument when she was pregnant, but found it implausible once she returned to work. "I felt bad, I want the best for my child," Moore said. "None of the moms here that I know actually breast-feed."

But the corporate/customer service rift at Starbucks is more the rule than an exception when it comes to American business. The Times' Jody Kantor notes, "At many law firms, lawyers can pump in their offices, while secretaries use bathroom stalls; in the Army, which also has no policy on the matter, officers are less likely to encounter problems than enlisted soldiers, who have less autonomy and a more complex chain of command."

Legal protection for working mothers who want to breast-feed is limited to various -- often laughable -- state laws, including a new Oklahoma law that says an employer may provide them with privacy and additional break time, according to the Times. Ever awesome Rep. Carolyn Maloney has unsuccessfully pushed for federal legislation to protect mothers' on-the-job breast-pumping rights. "I can't understand why this doesn't move," Maloney said. "This is pro-family, pro-health, pro-economy."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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