by Elizabeth Toledo, Vice President-Action and Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director
When feminists in California attempted to pass a state law which allowed women to breastfeed in public, lawmakers rejected the idea repeatedly. One assembly member voiced a concern that this legislation would give women an excuse to bare their breasts in public.
Last December the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued new guidelines for parents, stating that breast milk is the preferred source of feeding for the first year of life. NOW seized the opportunity to push for real solutions that would empower women to choose breastfeeding, calling on the business community to help implement the pediatricians' findings. Several congressmembers began to pursue federal legislation that would accommodate breastfeeding women's needs. The following are recommendations NOW made to policy makers, not in order of priority:
• Extend to one year from the present six months after childbirth the period that women can receive nutritional supplements under the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.
Breastfeeding women require an additional 1,000 calories per day and the cut-off of supplement assistance at six months for eligible low-income women makes no sense.
• Issue federal guidelines to employers outlining best practices to accommodate breastfeeding mothers, including sufficient time off work each day without penalty.
This action would have very little cost to government and a low-cost to employers; it would be instructive to owners, managers and supervisors who may have little experience or knowledge of what proper policies might include. In March, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., introduced a bill (H.R.3531) that encourages employers to support workplace lactation programs. If enacted, the bill would allow credit for employer expenses to provide appropriate breastfeeding environments.
• Amend federal pregnancy accommodation law to include breastfeeding.
States may also want to emulate any changes in the federal law and regulations pertaining to accommodating pregnant women.
• Make a congressional finding and recommendation that employers establish a suitable area for mothers to breastfeed infants comfortably.
Both houses of Congress should also expand such facilities, and the various federal agencies should take the same action. Following an unfortunate incident in California where a woman using a breast pump was "apprehended" by police in a restroom, the California Assembly established a small room for this activity. The federal government could serve as a model for other employers to set up similar facilities.
• Clarify in law that anyone in the act of breastfeeding or using a breast pump should not be subject to any indecent exposure laws.
Breastfeeding mothers have been forced to leave shopping malls or other locations under such statutes or ordinances. A statement in federal law would prevent the misapplication of those laws to lactating moms.
• Encourage the inclusion of professional lactation specialists services in health care plans.
Some plans currently use these professionals.
• Provide funding and programs so that low-income mothers or mothers receiving public assistance can have access to breast pumps. Infants can feed every two hours; mothers seeking employment often need breast pumps just to attend job interviews. This might be something like the infant seat loan programs that are offered in many communities.
• Amend welfare-to-work requirements to allow poor mothers to delay seeking employment until they have stopped breastfeeding.
The benefits are obvious.
• Increase funding for federally-assisted child care centers and provide assistance to other workplace-based child care centers.
Parents who use child care centers at their place of employment can more easily visit their infants throughout the day to breastfeed.
• Evaluate the need for regulation of breast pump manufacturing standards.
NOW recognizes that the social, financial and institutional barriers to choosing breastfeeding must be removed.
"I nursed both of my daughters, and it was possible because I work for an employer that made it possible," said NOW Executive Vice President Kim Gandy. "But most employers don't provide those resources, and some actively take steps that make breastfeeding impossible for their employees."
"As a mother of two myself, I am excited by the progress that our society is making in its attitude toward breastfeeding," said NOW Action V.P. Elizabeth Toledo. "In my birthing class, when I was pregnant with my first child, I was the only person whose mother had breastfed her children. Things have clearly changed, but as with so many other issues, we still have more work to do to gain greater public acceptance and proper access for mothers."