Nursing mothers serving as diplomats are having problems in a number of U.S. embassies around the world, as staff prohibit them from bringing electronic breast pumps into their offices, according to a new report.
A Foreign Policy report states that diplomatic security staff at some embassies are telling the diplomats that their pumps are considered personal electronic devices and are therefore restricted. As a result, the women are being blocked from bringing them into their offices or “controlled access areas.”
“We’re still dealing with basic accessibility issues that any private company would have had to sort out years ago so they don’t face any discrimination lawsuits,” an anonymous diplomat told the outlet. Foreign Policy said female State Department employees have been upset about conditions that do not meet the standards set out by federal law for private employers.
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires private U.S. companies with 50 or more employees to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” The law also says employers have to give “reasonable break time” for pumping. An electronic pump allows women to express milk much faster than if they did so manually.
The law requires private employers to provide such accommodations for one year after the birth of the child. The CDC also promotes breastfeeding and encourages employers to work with nursing employees.
The U.S. Agency for International Development also supports “immediate and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months,” citing recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.
A State Department spokesperson told Foreign Policy that the department has included lactation rooms in the designs of new office buildings, and “is also working to retrofit buildings to accommodate those standards where feasible.” The spokesperson also said the bureaus of Medical Services and Diplomatic Security “are working together to create a uniform policy governing the use of breast pumps in controlled access areas.”