National Partnership for Women & Families

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Portia Wu, Vice President

From the desk of ... Portia Wu

New Moms Benefit from Health Reform

April 15, 2010 | Health Care | Work and Family

"Can't you just use the bathroom?"

There's a question that tens of thousands of new moms won't have to hear anymore, thanks to the new health reform law which includes an important provision guaranteeing many nursing moms the right to take breaks to express milk at work.

Study after study shows that breast-feeding can help lead to healthy outcomes for women and children, and save billions in health costs. But many women have to stop breast-feeding - or never even start - because they can't pump milk in their workplaces. Some new moms have found their employers to be outright hostile, while others simply face work environments that offer nowhere private or sanitary to go.

The pressures and conflicts this creates for new moms are worsened because many have to return to work very quickly after giving birth. Most workers in this country have no paid family leave, or others cannot afford to take the unpaid, job-protected leave the Family and Medical Leave Act provides - or aren't covered by that law.

And in this tough economy, families are more reliant than ever on working moms' incomes.

Until a few weeks ago, only half the states had any protections for nursing moms who worked, which meant that women were left to fend for themselves. But Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) championed this issue in health care reform, with support from Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY) and others. And now, for the first time, there's a federal standard to help breast-feeding mothers pump at work.

Employers have to provide covered workers reasonable break time to express milk for up to one year after a child's birth. They must provide "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public."

This new law is an important step in making sure our workplaces meet the needs of working women. It provides protections to those who need it most - hourly workers including those who work in retail, factories, restaurants, and call centers, who often have the most difficult time taking needed breaks and finding clean, safe spaces to pump.

To learn more about this new law, click here. To thank Senator Merkley and encourage him to take further steps to help working women, click here.


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