March 10, 2010

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Gordon Chibroski

Staff Writer

PORTLAND —If you speak to a breastfeeding woman on the street next week and she doesn't speak back to you, she's not being rude.

She's just not real.

Six life-size cutouts of breastfeeding moms will be placed around the city beginning Monday by the Public Health Division to launch a new breastfeeding awareness campaign. The campaign is tied to a new state law that requires employers to provide paid or unpaid break time each day for nursing mothers to pump breast milk.

The new law, sponsored by Rep. Melissa Walsh Innes, D-Yarmouth, goes into effect Sept. 12.

The law also requires employers to make ''reasonable efforts'' to provide a clean room other than a bathroom where their employees can express milk privately, and bars discrimination against mothers who pump in the workplace.

''Sometimes women don't feel comfortable talking to their employer about the fact that they need to pump, and they need to breastfeed,'' said Kristen Dow, a community health promotions specialist in the city's public health division. ''Hopefully, this opens up the lines of communication, if nothing else, to get employers aware of the fact.''

The breastfeeding campaign will remind Portlanders that breastfeeding in public is protected under the Maine Human Rights Act, Dow said, and that women ''shouldn't be ashamed to do so.''

And it will help get breast pumping out of the bathroom.

''It's not a sanitary place,'' Dow said. ''Nobody wants to eat a meal that was prepared in a public bathroom stall.''

The campaign will be launched Monday with a 12:30 p.m. press conference in Post Office Park. The half-dozen cutouts of breastfeeding women will be placed periodically at locations throughout the city, including park benches, the City Hall rotunda, Maine Medical Center, Mercy Hospital's Fore River campus, local businesses, the Alive at 5 concert in Monument Square, and the farmers market.

They'll be seen around the city through Aug. 8.

The women in the cutouts are breastfeeding with one hand, Dow said, and holding a sign in the other that reads: ''When breastfeeding is accepted it won't be noticed.'' They are based on a similar campaign in Marin County, Calif.

Dow said the cutouts offer a modest portrayal of breastfeeding. Some people have argued that the models are so modest they're not very realistic, she said.

''They're very conservative,'' Dow said. ''There's nothing showing at all.''

The cutouts come with cards that explain the new law and a list of resources for new mothers showing where they can find support groups, informational materials and professional lactation consultants.

As part of the campaign, the city of Portland is designating breast-pumping areas in all city buildings, according to Nicole Clegg, the city's spokeswoman.

Clegg said pumping in bathrooms at City Hall has not been an issue.

''I pumped in my office, and certainly a lot of the women I work with in public health who have had babies in the last year, they found a space up there,'' Clegg said. ''It's been working, but this is sort of a more formalized policy that will be put in place.

''The idea is that women who are returning to work after having a baby feel more supported in making that decision to continue breastfeeding.''

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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