Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
English teacher Nikki Crandall and son Cache sit in a meeting with Crandall's peers at Nebo District's Mapleton Junior High.

SALT LAKE CITY — For Nikki Crandall, her newborn son is everything, so it was difficult when she had to return to work at Mapleton Junior High School just six weeks after his birth.

Luckily for Crandall, although she could not bring her son to class, the school's principal allowed her and other new mothers to bring their children to training sessions and meetings.

"She's been very accommodating," Crandall said. "It's hard to be both places at once for my son."

Crandall is one of many mothers to face such challenges as the economic recession sends more women into the workplace.

To help ease the return to work, Utah lawmakers are considering legislation that would require employers to accommodate breastfeeding in the workplace.

Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake, is proposing a bill that is designed to allow mothers more opportunities to nurse their children if they choose.

Under HB252, if a mother asks an employer to provide a private, sanitary place to breastfeed or store breast milk for later use, an employer must accommodate the request.

Johnson, herself an expectant mother, said the proposed law would not require all employers to build mothers' lounges, but rather accommodate individual mothers upon request.

"What's happening now is women go into the restrooms to express milk," she said. "This is really not a sanitary or private place for the mother or child."

The proposal calls for the state to enforce the law, but Johnson said she is in the process of changing it to simply allow women to sue their employers if they are not accommodated, cutting the state out of the process.

The bill has yet to be debated on Capitol Hill, as Johnson works to reduce the bill's fiscal note, a must for it to be successful with this year's tight budget.

If employers do everything they reasonably can to accommodate an employee's request, the law's requirements will be satisfied, Johnson said.

"This is really less to do with breastfeeding and more to do with asking employers to be more aware and accommodating of nursing mothers," she said. "Because there hasn't been a law established, many women just don't speak out and ask their employers."

The biggest challenge for nursing mothers is finding a space at work, said breastfeeding advocate Christy Porucznik, a leader with Utah's La Leche League. The bill would help solve this issue and allow for a change in attitudes toward nursing mothers, she said.

Porucznik said breastfeeding may lead to fewer infections and less risk of obesity for children later in life, and it also has advantages for the mother.

"It's critical," she said. "Breastfeeding completes the hormonal cycle for women. It's what women are programmed to do."

Breastfeeding pays off for businesses as well as their employees, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site womenshealth.gov. Retaining employees by accommodating breastfeeding can lead to more satisfied and loyal employees and cost savings for the business, according to the Web site.

Porucznik predicted an initial push-back against the bill from people who do not see why nursing mothers should get "special treatment."

"This has the potential to have a lot of impact, with so many women working in Utah," Porucznik said. "It may take awhile for attitudes to change, but this could be huge for women all over the state."

To read the full bill, go to le.utah.gov/~2010/htmdoc/hbillhtm/hb0252.htm

e-mail: jsmith@desnews.com