There’s no doubt that having our education system shift to Zoom is challenging, but Marcella Mares, a mother and student, hardly expected her breastfeeding to be a pandemic issue.
Mares, a student at Fresno City College, knew that her classes would be on Zoom, and that active cameras and microphones were a requirement for participation. She also knew that she’d need to breastfeed her 10-month-old daughter.
She emailed one of her professors, letting him know that she might need to turn both off, briefly, in order to feed her baby. She was sure that wasn’t going to be a problem—it’s actually her legal right. But she was mistaken.
“I am glad to hear that you can have your camera and microphone on, but please do not breastfeed your daughter during class time because it is not what you should be doing,” the instructor replied. “Just do that after class.”
Later that day, the instructor announced during class that he got a “weird” email from a student, who wanted to do “inappropriate” things during class.
Mares was understandably furious. “I was upset about it,” she told CNN. “I didn’t like the feeling of him telling me what I can and can’t do with my baby, especially in my own home because school is online right now.”
Mares reported the incident to Lorraine Smith, the school’s Title IX coordinator — and got a big apology from the instructor, who allegedly didn’t know about the law.
“I am sorry for the inconvenience in regard to your intention of breastfeeding your baby. From now on, you have the right to breastfeed your baby at any given time during class, which includes doing group worksheets, listening to the lecture, and taking the quiz or exam. You may turn off your camera at any given time as needed,” he said in an email to Mares.
According to Fresno City College Public Information Officer Kathy Bonilla, Mares has California law firmly on her side. “California law requires that schools accommodate students for conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth including lactation,” Bonilla explained to CNN. “The accommodation includes providing the time away from class to breastfeed without academic penalty.”
Breastfeeding Is a Right
The California Breastfeeding Coalition provides a guide to breastfeeding rights throughout the state, and they are extensive. For example, Civil Code section 43.3 states: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present.”
That pretty much means you can breastfeed anywhere you’d like. And, in terms of educational institutions, the accommodations are quite clear. Education Code Section 222 states that schools must provide reasonable accommodations, including “A lactating pupil on a school campus shall be provided a reasonable amount of time to accommodate her need to express breast milk or breast-feed an infant child.”
Time, in her own home, was exactly what Mares requested.
What happened to Mares is, in fact, illegal everywhere. Breastfeeding is protected by law in all 50 states (Idaho was the last holdout in 2018). While some states (Missouri, South Dakota) request discretion, whatever that means, most states give nursing mothers free rein to feed their babies whenever and wherever. Furthermore, thanks to the feds and the ACA, nursing mothers are protected and provided for in the American workplace as well.