Just after Carrie Deegan returned to work from maternity leave, she found herself staring down a room full of people in a Baltimore courtroom.

She wasn’t on trial but felt a little judged as she stood and blurted out that it was time for her to pump breast milk for her 4-month-old baby.

“It was embarrassing, in front of a room full of strangers, to ask if I could be excused,” said Deegan, one of about 1,000 Baltimore residents summoned for jury duty downtown one day in late February. But she still wasn’t allowed to leave right away. “The judge said, ‘You need to sit down.’”

Deegan and other mothers have learned that breastfeeding, recommended by nearly every baby organization and the government, doesn’t mesh well with court timing. When they’re away from their babies, moms must attach a mechanical pump to their breasts every two or three hours. If they don’t stick to the schedule, they risk a drop in milk production, discomfort or even a painful infection.

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The Baltimore courts used to allow new mothers to defer jury service for a year. That was reduced to six months in 2022, when the courts added a lactation room following passage of city and state laws. But the accommodation designed to make moms’ work lives easier has made jury duty harder, several women told The Banner.

Information about the policy isn’t readily available — Deegan, for example, didn’t know she could defer her jury service. And when breastfeeding jurors show up at the courthouse, they said, they are met with uninformed staff, unforgiving schedules and an ill-equipped place to pump.

“It’s all really unfortunate,” said former Baltimore Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, a working mother who sponsored the 2018 legislation requiring businesses to offer space and reasonable time to pump.

Surrounding counties and states allow breastfeeding mothers to defer service longer. Virginia and Pennsylvania are among the 22 states exempting them altogether, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sneed said after a year “most are weaning off of breastfeeding. That’s a normal timeline to ask people to serve.”

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A bureaucratic struggle

Here’s how it’s supposed to work, according to Bradley Tanner, a spokesman for the Maryland Judiciary:

Potential jurors need to call the jury division where they live to request information about breastfeeding accommodations or a new court date.

When breastfeeding moms arrive, they should inform a jury room clerk of their schedule, and they can access the lactation room as often as needed directly from the waiting room. From a courtroom, they can seek assistance from the judge or sheriff’s deputy.

In practice, it doesn’t always go smoothly.

One mother said no one told her about the option to defer when she called to ask about accommodations. When a Banner reporter called, the clerk said a breastfeeding juror could provide a doctor’s note, but didn’t know what it needed to say.

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Several mothers said staff didn’t always know how they’d be able to access the first-come, first-served lactation room on schedule. Some were required to leave their ID at a desk before being escorted to the room, which didn’t lock and lacked a sink for washing hands and pump equipment. There was no eating, or more importantly for nursing mothers’ milk production, drinking allowed in that room. There’s no drinking in courtrooms, either.

A bigger issue for Angélie Guilbaud was that she’d never pumped or left her 6-month-old baby for a full day. She also had no affordable or available child care option for her jury duty earlier this month. Her husband, a city school teacher, arranged for a day off while she practiced pumping with a machine her insurer had given her and hoped her baby would drink it. (She did not and, Guilbaud said, cried all day.)

She lugged the new, unfamiliar equipment to the courthouse lactation room, where she was surprised to see a poster from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention touting the benefits of breastfeeding.

The CDC recommends breastfeeding for a year or longer and the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend up to two years.

“Mothers need support throughout their breastfeeding journey,” the poster said.

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Angélie Guilbaud holds her daughter, Colette.
Angélie Guilbaud holds her daughter, Colette. (Antoine Guilbaud)

Guilbaud said she and another mother of a 2-month-old she met at check-in offered that support to each other throughout the day.

But the experience left her angry for herself and what she assumed was a small pool of others who aren’t trying to escape jury service permanently but face hardship in serving now. One mom said she ended up vomiting and suffering from a migraine and mastitis, a painful condition when breasts are not emptied on a proper schedule.

No change in sight

Some lawmakers say they also want to see more accommodation, though the policies are set by the courts, not the legislatures.

“As the new dad of an infant, Mayor Scott absolutely aligns with the concerns of new moms who found the accommodations around jury duty aren’t working for their families,” said Bryan Doherty, a spokesman for Scott.

“While he has no direct control over processes of the court system, Mayor Scott would be supportive of the courts looking at options to expand flexibility and improve facilities like lactation rooms where possible, while balancing Baltimore’s well-documented struggles with jury selection.”

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State Del. Robbyn Lewis, a Baltimore Democrat and member of the Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee, said, “I remain concerned that nursing mothers are not adequately accommodated in public buildings, including those in which jury duty takes place.”

The General Assembly is unlikely to change the law this year as the legislative session is well underway. Tanner said the courts are not considering a policy change.

How many are affected is unclear. Officials say the city’s lactation room is used about three times a week.

Officials also have said Baltimore has a chronic shortage of eligible jurors. The jury pool, derived from motor vehicle and voter registrations, is under 248,000, less than half the city population. About a third fail to appear or their summonses are undeliverable. Others are excused for age, disability or criminal histories. The courts call about 1,000 jurors a day.

Moms such as Lindsay McConnell, summoned when her baby was just past 6 months old, said the process for new mothers is particularly “less than ideal.”

Not everyone knew the lactation room location. Her number was called while she was pumping and she had to enter a courtroom late. No one was quite sure who to ask when she needed to pump again.

When she was finally dismissed after normal closing time, she had to hurry back to another courthouse to retrieve her breast milk. Punctuating the day, the water cooler was empty.

She had to do it all over again for a second day of service.

McConnell said she really didn’t mind serving. She’s paid by her job and can take a bus.

But, she said, “Is it really realistic to pump every three hours during a trial?” she said. “In a world that really puts pressure on moms to breastfeed, the court could be more accommodating.”

What to do if you get jury duty while breastfeeding

Call to ask the court’s policy. Policies vary at courts around the state, though all have lactation rooms.

Get a doctor’s note. Some courts may excuse breastfeeding moms from jury duty for reasons like the mother or baby facing medical complications, or if the baby won’t take a bottle. Officials in Baltimore, however, said such excusals are rare.

Alert court staff of your needs. Once at the courthouse, jurors should alert the clerk (at the desk in the jury waiting room) that they’ll need to use the lactation room. Nursing mothers will be escorted there from the waiting room. Once in a courtroom, jurors should first alert a sheriff’s deputy of their needs by raising their hand or calling out before being seated, and alert the judge if directed or while answering jury questions.

Stock up. Mothers recommend bringing hand sanitizer and wipes, as well as water bottles and lunch, as there may not be time to leave the courthouse.

Meredith Cohn is a health and medicine reporter for The Baltimore Banner, covering the latest research, public health developments and other news. She has been covering the beat in Baltimore for more than two decades.

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