MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – When Kim O’Leary was pregnant, she had concerns about how she would pump milk at work so she could breast-feed her baby.

She talked to her superiors and when she returned to her job after having her baby, she had an office with a door instead of a cubicle.

“It was nice to have an appropriate place to pump milk,” said O’Leary, who had worked in the governor’s office and now is spokeswoman for the Vermont Agency of Human Services.

Some women aren’t so lucky or don’t feel comfortable telling their employer, said Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, chairwoman of the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs.

“For a women who have been on leave who’s coming back to a job asking for special accommodations may seem out of her realm, something that she’s not comfortable doing,” she said Thursday.

She hopes a bill signed into law by the governor on Thursday will make it easier for nursing mothers to continue breast-feeding after they return to work. The law requires employers to allow nursing mothers time and a place to express breast milk at work and prevents them from being discriminated or retaliated against by their employers.

“What we’re doing is saying this is the norm,” Head said. “This is what employers should provide, thereby encouraging more employers to provide it and more women to ask for it and find ways to make it happen.”

In addition to Vermont, 20 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws related to breast-feeding in the workplace, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Vermont a high percentage of women breast-feed: 85 percent, compared to the national average of 74 percent. But some women stop breast-feeding because they’re unable to pump milk at work, advocates say.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breast feed their babies exclusively for the first six months and continue breast-feeding until the child is a year old because of the nutrition and antibodies it provides.

“I really think this is an important step forward at this point of the state’s economic cycle because … we face a shrinking work force and it’s more essential than ever that everybody who is able to work and wants to work be able to do so and continue to nurture their children at the same time,” Gov. Jim Douglas said as he signed the bill, surrounded by nursing mothers and their children.

Although many employers are accommodating, the law will make it easier for young women or women who work mostly with men, said Wendy Love, executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women.

“If you are 20 and you work for a middle-aged man, to be able to say the breast word for some of them they just can’t even do that,” she said.

AP-ES-05-15-08 1702EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.