The twitter-and blog-o-sphere has been abuzz with news that the Law School Admissions Council will not accommodate nursing mothers during the LSAT exam.
From the ACLU:
“LSATs should NOT disadvantage nursing mothers!
The Law School Admissions Council, the organization that administers the LSAT, has a blanket policy of denying all requests for accommodation from nursing mothers who need to pump breast milk during the exam. Without the ability to pump, nursing women will be in increasing discomfort and even pain as the test progresses—causing a serious distraction that could impact their test scores. Not pumping when you need to can also pose significant health risks.
Nursing mothers should not have to choose between feeding their babies and applying to law school. And they should not have to subject themselves to distracting pain and potential health risks simply to take a required admissions test.”
Is this complaint justified?
Medically, WebMD confirms that women who “delay or skip breast-feeding or pumping sessions” are more likely to suffer from mastitis (breast inflammation usually caused by infection).
But will taking the LSAT without accommodation delay a woman’s pumping session to the point that she gets mastitis?
According to the Law School Admissions Council, which administers the LSAT, the exam is a half-day event consisting of 5 sections, each of which is 35 minutes long. The web-site alludes to a break, but does not reveal the length of this break. (I recall the break being five or ten minutes – probably not long enough to express milk.) Assuming a ten-minute break, total exam time comes in at 185 minutes. If we add ten minutes for instruction at the beginning of the exam, our total time is 195 minutes – or three and one-quarter hours.
Will a three and one-quarter hour time-period without expressing milk result in mastitis?
Obviously, the time between feedings/pumping varies by woman, and by the age of her baby. As someone who nursed three children for over a year each, I personally never suffered pain, or came down with mastitis if I went three and a quarter hours without pumping. Based on my personal experiences, if I were planning to take the LSAT while nursing, I would arrange to arrive at the test-site far enough in advance that I could pump just prior to the exam. Then, I would pump again immediately after the exam. (Assuming I could find a place to do so. Other than a toilet stall, thank you very much. Think this isn’t a problem? Next time you enter a public building, I dare you to try and find such a place.)
Still, every woman and every infant is different, and I can imagine that for some women – especially a mother of a very young infant who is nursing every one-and-a-half to two hours, that pain and mastitis could reasonably occur. Or consider nursing mothers of multiples – I imagine their bodies are producing much more milk more quickly than mine ever did.
The cynic may ask, “Well, if your baby is nursing every one and a half to two hours, the mother is severely sleep-deprived. Why would she even want to take the LSAT at that point?” The LSAT is only offered four times per year, and the timing of the test influences the timing of the test-taker’s law-school admission.
And why should we listen to the cynic? If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a mother-lawyer, it is that every lawyer, every mother, and every child are different. Each has her own priorities, her own life circumstances, and her own decisions to make based on which is best for that lawyer, that mother and that child at that particular point in time.
So, while I do not feel that I would have required an accommodation to take the LSAT when I was a nursing mother, I can’t possibly predict or pretend to understand the reasons that another nursing mother may feel that she does require an accommodation.
Further, the LSAC recently settled a law-suit with a student with ADD and a learning disability. In that settlement, according to the Star Tribune, “the council agreed to double the standard testing time on each section and to allow the complainant breaks between sections, a separate and quiet testing area, permission to use his own computer for the writing section, permission to use scratch paper and use of an alternative answer sheet [emphasis mine].”
Wow. And all nursing mothers want is one measly half-hour break. Compared to the ADD accommodation, that doesn’t seem like much. And how many nursing mothers would the LSAC actually be asked to accommodate anyhow? One? Two?
Ultimately, in my mind, it comes down to giving mother-lawyers-to-be exactly the same thing that mother-lawyers throughout the profession are also lacking. Choice. The freedom and ability to make the best choice for that particular mother and that particular child at that particular moment in time.
Does this create a little extra work for the LSAC and employers? Sure it does. But isn’t the future of our children and the health and wellness of nearly half the population worth it? I sure think so.