Breastfeeding Rights Are Civil Rights

A Review of the ACLU of Nebraska’s most recent breastfeeding advocacy victories in celebration of National Breastfeeding Month

August is National Breastfeeding Month so now is the perfect time to recap our most recent work supporting breastfeeding Nebraskans. The ACLU advocates for breastfeeding rights because we recognize that breastfeeding is a civil right, gender equity concern, and reproductive justice issue. On a personal note, I will become a mom this fall and plan to embark on my own breastfeeding journey. To be clear, it’s important to acknowledge that breastfeeding is a personal choice for each individual to make for herself and her family. But for those who do choose to breastfeed, it’s important to support this decision by advocating for policies supportive of breastfeeding in schools, at work, in public, and for breastfeeding moms who are incarcerated.

Last August, we released a white paper detailing lactation policies applicable to students at colleges and universities across the state after having successfully advocated for greater protections for pregnant and breastfeeding Nebraskans in the workplace and in K-12 schools

Our most recent work on breastfeeding rights includes a rich body of successful legislative advocacy, research and investigation, policy promulgation, individual legal support, and public education. Here are two new additions from 2019.

2019 Unicameral Session –Two Big Wins for Breastfeeding Rights

During the 2019 legislative session, we worked with Senators and other partners to pass two bills to advance breastfeeding rights. First, a bill introduced by Senator Blood to explicitly exempt breastfeeding in public from Nebraska’s public indecency statute was signed into law so that breastfeeding moms never have to fear prosecution simply for feeding their child.

Additionally, LB 690, introduced by Senator Cavanaugh, was passed and signed into law. Under the new law, absent extraordinary circumstances, pregnant women and girls cannot be shackled or restrained during labor and delivery and during postpartum recovery. This means that when breastfeeding is started during the initial postpartum period, the mother cannot be restrained in the vast majority of cases.

In light of these developments, we updated our always in demand Know Your Rights materials so that all nursing moms in Nebraska are empowered to know and understand their rights in public, on the job, at school, while incarcerated, and beyond.

Click here to view Know Your Rights: Nebraska Breastfeeding Mothers

Data Collection and Policy Negotiations Supporting Breastfeeding Rights for Incarcerated Women​

Pregnancy in Prison Statistics (PIPS) Project

Recognizing an lack of data on the number of pregnancies or outcomes of pregnancies of women behind bars, the PIPS project collected data “for 1 year from 22 state prison systems, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 6 jails and 3 juvenile justice systems.”

No Nebraska facilities collected data, so in July 2019 I wrote to the Nebraska Department of Corrections and Jail Standards Board to explain the project and request that the facilities collect and report on this information. We also shared the data collection tool from PIPS with these departments to make collecting this data easier for the facilities. At this point, we are unsure whether these entities will collect data to gain meaningful insights about pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes among correctional facilities in the state. While the number of incarcerated women and girls continues to skyrocket it is more important than ever before that government entities commit to best practices in data collection so we can all understand what is happening behind prison walls and ensure respect, dignity, and support for incarcerated Nebraska women, Nebraska girls and their children.

Douglas County Jail Lactation Policy

In the fall of 2018, we sent open records requests to the Nebraska Department of Corrections, Lancaster County Jail, and Douglas County Jail seeking the lactation policies applicable to those incarcerated at each facility. While the policies for the Nebraska Department of Corrections were specific to the nursery program at York, and the Lancaster County Jail shared emails about accommodations made in specific instances, Douglas County indicated they had no responsive documents at all.

In July 2019, we received a request for assistance from Ashley, a nursing mother who had been housed at the Douglas County jail for three days while waiting to see a judge to resolve a previous ticket for a traffic offense. According to Ashley, “I told just about everyone I had contact with while being booked in that I was nursing my baby back home and that she’s going to need milk. No one was helpful. I kept just getting a “that sucks” kind of response. No one offered any helpful suggestions or advice.” Ashley was forced to hand express and then dump her milk in her cell. When the infant’s father inquired about getting milk from Ashley to feed his daughter, he was told he would just have to give the baby formula. Click here to read Ashley’s full letter.

After Ashley contacted ACLU we sent a letter urging the Douglas County Jail to adopt a written lactation policy and shared best practices to assist them with that process to make sure what happened to Ashley doesn’t happen again. Douglas County is currently developing a written policy that should be available this month.

Nebraskans have a lot to celebrate during National Breastfeeding Month as we have made significant strides to support those mothers who choose to breastfeed. However, there is undoubtedly more work to be done and the ACLU of Nebraska will never stop fighting for policies and laws that recognize breastfeeding as fundamental to individual rights and civil liberties.