Returning to the workforce as a new mother isn’t easy, especially for mothers who choose to breastfeed. I was appalled when Baltimore City courts recently updated their policy regarding new mothers and limitations on when and how they can feed their babies while serving as jurors.

The courts reduced the time that moms have an opportunity to defer jury duty from one year to six months. Maintaining safe, clean and accessible lactation spaces is a very personal issue to me, so much so that I made it a priority while serving on Baltimore City Council in 2018.

As a working mom, new to motherhood and trying to navigate that role while pursuing my career, I would often take my infant, Rae, to City Hall while serving the people of Baltimore on council. Every mother wants the healthiest baby possible, and doctors recommend breastfeeding newborns and infants up to 1 year old or a little older. I wanted my baby to stay strong and as healthy as possible.

I must admit I was a bit shy and uncomfortable at first, but I quickly got over my fears and social anxieties because I knew that the nourishment and wellbeing of my baby were more important than any stares, whispers or raised eyebrows that came my way. Eventually, nursing in public became second nature, and I referred to it as simply “feeding time.” I knew I had to take care of my baby.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

I would often pump milk while I was on phone calls with constituents and colleagues, and I’m sure the person on the receiving end occasionally heard the roar of the machine in the background. It was a no-brainer for me to introduce lactation legislation in August 2018 for women returning to the workplace in Baltimore after giving birth. I introduced Council Bill 18-0276 to expand lactation accommodations so that working moms wouldn’t have to choose between the health of their baby or their career.

Unfortunately, women, especially Black and brown women, don’t always have the resources to take extended time away from work. This results in fewer Black mothers choosing to breastfeed. According to research published in 2019, Black infants have a significantly lower rate of breastfeeding at age 3 months (36% among black infants and 53% among white infants) and at age 6 months ( 17.2% among black infants and 29.5% among white infants). Women returning to the workforce should not have to face more obstacles by not having appropriate and sanitary accommodations.

Baltimore voters taking time away from work and their families to perform their civic duties deserve the utmost respect. Forcing a new mother to perform her civic duty within six months, without guidelines, information and accommodations is not only unnecessary but intrusive. We must require the courts to have a designated space that is clean and safe, with the option of a place to store the milk and running water.

I was horrified when I recently read that a mother in Harford County returning to work did not have a reasonable location to express milk. The mother stated that she was not provided a suitable space and had to personally clean, sanitize and remove storage on her short break before she could even get settled to pump.

This sends the wrong message to returning mothers and our employees when we disrespect them and the health of their infants by failing to create a space where they can work and ensure the nourishment of their babies. The good news is most business owners understand the concept and the needs of mothers returning to the workforce. But this must be a requirement for employers across the board and in every industry. Give these mothers the respect they deserve and the time and resources they need to keep their babies healthy. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Shannon Sneed, a former member of the Baltimore City Council, is now a candidate for City Council president.

More From The Banner