New Navajo law provides breast-feeding rights

By Felicia Fonseca
Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) 10-08

Navajo lawmakers have passed a measure requiring employers on the reservation to provide a place for working mothers to breast feed.

The Tribal Council approved the bill 64-0 Oct. 22 while wrapping up its fall session in the tribal capital of Window Rock.

Under the Navajo Nation Healthy Start Act, mothers would be allowed unpaid time during work hours to breast feed their children or use a breast pump. Roberta Duncan, a member of a breast-feeding task force that pushed for the tribal law, says many women cite work as a barrier to starting and continuing to breast feed their children.

She said many women feel they can’t ask their supervisors to breast feed and fear resistance from co-workers.

“It’s very hard on them emotionally,” Duncan said. “It’s like they’re asking for something they have no right to ask for.”

Businesses would have 90 days to send a written plan to the Office of Navajo Labor Relations detailing the ways in which they’ll comply with the law. Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. has 10 days to sign or veto the measure once it reaches his desk.

According to the Web site of the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states including California, Illinois and New York require that employers let mothers take breaks to breastfeed or pump. Also, 10 states require employers to at least make “reasonable efforts” to provide a private location for this activity.