Roughly four million women give birth in the United States every year - and most choose to breastfeed (74 percent). After all, the nutritional value of breast milk is well documented. Numerous studies show that breastfeeding protects mothers and children from a range of acute and chronic health conditions. But with two-thirds of today's working women returning to work within three months of giving birth, the lack of supportive workplace policies and laws is forcing too many nursing mothers to quit breastfeeding early - or never start.
The good news is that several recent measures provide support for many working mothers who choose to breastfeed, and more improvements could be on the way. The bad news is that not enough working women and employers know about them. Here are the most recent developments:
Despite this recent and promising progress, the work to help all mothers who want to breastfeed do so is not yet done.
Right now, the Department of Labor is figuring out how best to implement the reasonable break time provision in health reform so that nursing mothers who don't work in an office or at a fixed location - such as bus drivers, mail carriers, law enforcement officers and emergency medical technicians - can find private places to pump at work. The National Partnership for Women & Families is collecting comments, ideas and best practices from workers, organizations and researchers with experience or expertise in this kind of policy. You can help by sharing your insights here.
Recognizing that the health reform provision only covers hourly, non-exempt working women, the Obama administration directed all federal agencies to extend the right to all nursing mothers. We would like to see employers in the private sector follow suit. Just yesterday, Senator Merkley (Ore.) and Representative Maloney (N.Y.) introduced the Breastfeeding Promotion Act. The law would be an important step in ensuring private employers offer a time and place to pump to all nursing mothers, while also protecting women from workplace discrimination for breastfeeding, reducing some of the costs, and ensuring equipment is safe and effective.
We applaud the administration and other supportive policymakers for advancing breastfeeding rights. Particularly in the workplace, protections for nursing mothers are an important factor in working women's economic security and the health of their families.
We have seen a lot of progress recently. Let's take the next steps to make it possible for every new mother to breastfeed.