Due to significant health benefits for the mother and child, the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend six months of exclusive breastfeeding for all infants. We need to do all we can to support mothers when they decide to breastfeed. That is why I have introduced legislation for many years to protect a mother’s right to breastfeed and promote breastfeeding as an option for working mothers.
I was so proud to partner with Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to pass into law a provision of our bill, the Breastfeeding Promotion Act (H.R. 2819, S. 1744), in comprehensive health care reform legislation signed by President Obama on March 23, 2010. The provision states that employers shall provide breastfeeding employees, who are hourly workers, with “reasonable break time” and a private, non-bathroom place to express breast milk during the workday, up until the child’s first birthday.
Many women who have contacted my office on this issue have been fired or discriminated against for expressing milk during the day in order to keep breastfeeding after returning to work. Some have been harassed on the job, or have had their pay docked because they used their regular breaks or lunchtime to pump milk. Some have purchased breast pumps that were painful, ineffective, or damaging. I am interested in hearing from you if you have experienced one of these situations.
A recent study found that the U.S. could save $13 billion per year in unnecessary medical expenses if 90 percent of new mothers nursed their children exclusively for six months. Diseases that would be significantly reduced include: sudden infant death syndrome, gastro intestinal disease related to low birth weight, ear infections, respiratory tract infections, leukemia, and childhood obesity. The study also found that 911 infant deaths per year could be prevented as a result. Returning to an unsupportive work environment has been identified as a major reason for the avoidance or early abandonment of breastfeeding. Workplace support can bridge this gap and help more women to balance working and breastfeeding.
My work on this issue goes back to 1998, when I introduced a comprehensive bill promoting breastfeeding and protecting women who choose to breastfeed. I am very pleased that one of the provisions of that bill allowing states to spend more money on breastfeeding promotion and support through the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) nutrition program was enacted into law. In 1999, my right to breastfeed amendment was passed as part of the FY 2000 budget, ensuring a woman's right to breastfeed her child on any portion of Federal property where the woman and her child are otherwise authorized to be.
In the 111th Congress, I reintroduced the Breastfeeding Promotion Act (H.R. 2819), with my colleagues Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), Rep. John Olver (D-MA), Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Rep. Vic Snyder (D-AZ), Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), and Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA). This bill would encourage and promote breastfeeding by removing common obstacles to breastfeeding and expressing milk in the workplace that many women face.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a companion bill in the Senate making this the first Congress there was a Senate companion bill of this critically important piece of legislation.
Provision § 4207 of the health care reform package (Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers) was successfully included by Senator Jeff Merkley as an amendment to the Senate HELP Committee health care legislation. The amendment was adopted unanimously by voice vote and was ultimately included in the final health care reform law.
The provision states that employers shall provide breastfeeding employees, who are hourly workers, with “reasonable break time” and a private, non-bathroom place to express breast milk during the workday, up until the child’s first birthday.
This law will ensure hourly and lower-wage working mothers who choose to breastfeed their children have the support they need. The economic and health benefits of breastfeeding are clear. No mother should have to choose between returning to work and continuing to breastfeed.
08/01/2011 - H.R. 2758, Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2011 [112th Congress]
2011 - Surgeon General Report on Breast Feeding
01/20/11 - Surgeon General’s Fact Sheet on Breast Feeding
2011 - Institute for Women’s Policy Research Report on the new health care law and breastfeeding(2 MG PDF)
06/26/09 - CRS Summary of State Breastfeeding Laws
10/12/06 - Breastfeeding: Federal Legislation