Check out Part 1, my experience as a breastfeeding mom taking the NY bar exam.
Yesterday another person found my blog searching for “nursing mothers and test accommodations bar exam“–so it’s time for a follow-up post with useful information for women taking exams like the bar exam, LSAT, USMLE (medical boards), etc., while breastfeeding.
Caveat: I’m not an expert in this area of law. I’m just someone with a bit of personal experience trying to pump during a major exam. However, I have done some legal research and talked to people who are smarter than me about these issues.
Entrance exams can and do discriminate against breastfeeding mothers by denying them time to pump.
This happens because of the big gaping hole in federal legislation that I wrote about in “Why Breastfeeding Discrimination is Legal” – breastfeeding isn’t covered as part of gender or pregnancy in the Civil Rights Act, it isn’t covered as a short-term disability under the American Disabilities Act, and the Fair Labor Standard Act pumping provisions only apply at work for certain employers and employees (see my post and BreastfeedingLaw.com).
So here is a bit of practical advice for nursing women taking major standardized exams–
Apply for testing accommodations at the same time as you apply for the exam.
Every major American exam has an application for testing accommodations for test-takers with disabilities. This is required by the American Disabilities Act. Breastfeeding is NOT protected as a disability under the ADA, but for your best shot at break time, you have to go through the same process as a student seeking accommodations for a disability.
The applications for test accommodations are not new-mom-friendly.
- They are long.
- They require supporting documentation from your doctor(s).
- They have early deadlines (typically 2-3 months before the exam, and you want ample time to appeal if you’re initially denied).
So if you’re reading this while pregnant and planning to take the bar exam (or USMLE or LSAT) with an infant like I did, get your OB to write you a letter now and apply for pumping breaks before baby is born–I swear it would be easier to do while pregnant than it is with an infant.
Figure out what kind of testing accommodations you’ll need.
You may not have a baby yet. You may not know how much your child will be nursing or if you’ll even succeed at nursing at the time you should be applying for accommodations. That was part of the uncertainty that led me not to apply for accommodations at all.
In hindsight this is what I’d ask for (and what I think you should ask for):
- 30 minutes to pump for every 3 hours of test time,
- a private place to pump that isn’t a bathroom,
- permission to bring your pump into the testing area (or somewhere accessible) so that you can get it and get pumping immediately when you need to.
Your doctor will need to support these requests in the application. Even if you don’t need additional time to pump it’s wise to have permission to bring your pump and place to use it before the exam and after (and that’s an accommodation that is much easier to get).
You might be granted pumping breaks–but test administrators can argue that they shouldn’t have to give them to you.
I’ve heard from solid sources that the the following professional exams have given lactating women additional break time to pump without a problem:
- California Board of Psychology Licensing Exam
- American Board of Family Medicine Certification Exam
- American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology Certification Exam
- Certain State Bar Exams
They don’t advertise it, but women who ask are getting pumping breaks. It’s clear that some serious professional organizations don’t view pumping breaks as a threat to the integrity of their licensing exams.
But there are others:
The LSAT, as a rule, does not accommodate nursing mothers. The exam is five 35-minute blocks and one 15 minute break. That sounds like a short test, but the intro and security–they fingerprint everyone–are very time consuming. My LSAT experience lasted more than 6 hours in the testing room–not humane without a pumping break.
Then there’s the National Board of Medical Examiners and the famous case of Sophie Currier. The National Board of Medical Examiners has fought giving breastfeeding doctors additional break time during Step 2 of the USMLE (a 9 hour test with 45 minutes of break time) all the way to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts–in the next few months there will be a big decision about whether and how Massachusetts protects breastfeeding mothers from discrimination. Until then, the NBME maintains that no other nursing mothers will receive pumping breaks–unless they sue for it.
My view is that it’s worth applying–the more women ask, the more likely it is that things will change. Your application may be the tipping point.
Have any of you been through something like this? How do you feel about pumping breaks for test-taking moms?
Tomorrow’s post will be about what your options are if you’re denied additional breaks to pump.
Feel free to email me about this if you have questions about your situation–I’m not taking cases but I can offer some friendly support and point you to resources.