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A new breast pumping law, known as the PUMP Act, is now in effect


Unlike every other affluent country, the U.S. has no national policy requiring paid parental leave. Most new parents have been able to get 12 weeks of unpaid leave since 1993, but since many people can't afford to take it, that means many go back to work while they're still nursing. And as advocate Liz Morris puts it, that leaves many parents with a tough choice.

LIZ MORRIS: Do I follow my health care provider's recommendations for giving my child human milk, or do I keep my job and earn an income?

MARTIN: Morris, a longtime legal advocate for working parents, helped draft bipartisan legislation called the PUMP Act. The new law would require most employers to provide private areas other than a bathroom where parents can pump breast milk. But we have found a businessman in Oklahoma who is ahead of the curve. Jonathan Fowler has had lactation pods in his car dealership for several years now. He put them in after his employees asked for them, and I ask him if he was surprised by that.

JONATHAN FOWLER: I think the personal becomes the passionate, and for me, you know, becoming a father, prior to that, I was completely uneducated on breastfeeding, pumping and all of the things that go along with that. Forget about just the technical aspects of it, but just the emotional and the stress that can come along with it.

MARTIN: Tell me about these lactation areas. What do they look like? How do they work?

FOWLER: Yeah. So it's just a very clean, safe environment that you can just walk into. You can lock the door. It's well lit. It's got plugs for any type of charging equipment you may need or anything like that. And it's just a very simple, quiet, safe space that someone can go and utilize for pumping or for breastfeeding. And they're not there to make somebody feel like they can't breastfeed in public. It's just there for someone that wants that opportunity and that option for them. I think it's about raising awareness. I think it's about providing options for everyone and just trying to have things available on the terms of what they're wanting.

MARTIN: What was the reaction to these stations when you put them in?

FOWLER: It was amazing. I mean, we've gotten tremendous feedback on that. And at the same time, we rolled out eight weeks of paid parental leave. Those two things in conjunction, I think really spoke to our commitment that we're trying to make just to working mothers and to working families that are trying to do their best in a highly stressful environment.

MARTIN: It's my understanding the lactation areas and the paid parental leave - that comes out of your budget. You don't get any government support for this.

FOWLER: That is correct. Yeah, that's something that we just decided was worth the cost. And to be completely honest, it has been. I think that it's great that a company like ours is able to afford to be able to do that. There's certainly companies out there that can do that today if they want.

I think that it's important that the government is trying to incentivize, though, for small, locally owned businesses that maybe can't afford these types of things and try and help them be able to provide these opportunities. You know, gig workers are still not covered under the PUMP Act. There's a lot of people that still aren't covered that are going to need help. And there's a lot of businesses that just don't have the ability to invest the dollars needed for some of their spaces to be compliant the way that they need to be, and, beyond compliance, to be comfortable for the people that are using the space.

MARTIN: Are there any other initiatives that you have that would help that - if you had a bit more support?

FOWLER: I don't think there's ever a shortage of ideas that we're wanting to take on, but the one that I'm pretty focused on these days is paid parental leave. I love that we're at eight weeks. I'd love to see that go to 12 weeks someday. Today, we're not in a position to where I'd feel comfortable doing that on our own, but we are working towards that. And my hope is that the states, the federal government, whoever can legislate this - they'll start making paid parental leave more of a thing that has to be done. That's something that I see just a massive benefit for the people that are welcoming their new children home and as they're trying to reenter the workforce, that it's just so much better for them, so much better for their kids.

MARTIN: That is Jonathan Fowler. He sells cars...

FOWLER: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...A lot of them in a lot of places. Jonathan Fowler, thanks so much for talking to us.

FOWLER: Michel, thank you so much and have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.