As a new mother, D.C. Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) often pauses during long workdays to go into her office, shut the door and pump milk for her 3-month-old daughter.
But on Thursday during a public hearing about homelessness that spanned nearly six hours, Nadeau announced that instead of excusing herself, she would be pumping from the dais.
She also broadcast her decision on Twitter: “I don’t want to recess my committee each time I need to pump so I will be pumping for a short while as our hearing on Rapid Rehousing continues. I believe its the first time it has been done from the DC Council dais.”
Nadeau's move comes amid a nationwide push to normalize breast-feeding and pumping in public spaces. She joins a growing number of politicians who have made headlines recently for breast-feeding while casting votes or taking part in meetings— a trend that probably will continue as more women run for and assume public office.
Andrea Dew Steele, president of Emerge America, a training program for female candidates, said there is a sea change occurring among women, particularly among Democratic women running for office after Trump’s election.
“Instead of women saying, ‘I can’t run; I have small children,’ they are saying, ‘I have to run because I have small children,’ ” Steele said.
That has also meant more female politicians putting the needs of their children on public display.
Nadeau, who is the first D.C. Council member to give birth while in office, said a demanding schedule had sometimes necessitated blending the roles of new mother and lawmaker. She said she was answering emails from constituents after delivering her daughter, and she was back on the dais five days after giving birth.
She is also running for reelection. (Four Democrats and one independent candidate have entered the race; the Democratic primary will be held in June.)
Pumping is often a cumbersome process that involves lugging a bag of equipment to a private space near an electrical outlet and getting partially undressed.
Federal law requires that large employers give mothers breaks so they can pump milk, and a sanitary and private space that is not a bathroom.
Increasingly, mothers do not like to be “tethered to the plug” and told they have to stop whatever work they are doing and go somewhere different, said Julia Beck, founder of the It’s Working Project, which helps companies bring parents back into the workforce.
At the same time, more women are comfortable breast-feeding publicly, and some newer pumps are making it easier to do so.
During a break from the hearing, Nadeau said she wore a hands-free pump called a "Freemie"with cups that she tucked into her bra before the meeting. She plugged in a motor beneath the desk. "All I had to do was connect the tubes and turn on the power," she said. "It was not even that loud."
But as more women have gotten praise for their public stance on breast-feeding and pumping — country singer Jessie James Decker has posted Instagram photographs of herself pumping breast milk in dressing rooms and Australian senator Larissa Waters cast a vote while breast-feeding her daughter last spring — there have also been efforts to stop women from following in their footsteps.
In Wisconsin this fall, the Eau Claire City Council voted to ban children from the council dais during meetings, after council member Catherine Emmanuelle said she planned to breast-feed her baby during meetings so she could fully participate.
Emmanuelle said she has the right to breast-feed her child in public. Her colleagues said that they had the right to minimize distractions during public meetings.
During the hearing at the Wilson Building, Nadeau, who is the chairwoman of the Committee on Human Services, was often the only council member on the dais.
Colleagues asked about her decision to pump were supportive.
"Council member Nadeau has business to do. She can run a hearing and if she needs to pump, she can do it," said council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), a father of two young children who pushed for changing tables in the city hall bathrooms."It's not an abnormal thing; it's very natural thing, and frankly, we encourage it."
Damon King, a policy advocate at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, was among the witnesses in the hearing room when Nadeau began pumping. He said he wasn’t fazed by her announcement.
“It wasn’t noticeable at all,” King said.