Health Care Reform Lends Support to Breastfeeding Moms, But Is It Enough?

If we’ve heard “breast is best” once, we’ve heard it a thousand times. Health experts agree the benefits of breastfeeding for both the baby and the mother are numerous. A study published earlier this week by the journal Pediatrics points out just how valuable breastfeeding can be. “If 90 percent of new moms in the United States breastfed their babies exclusively for the first six months, researchers estimate that as many as 900 more infants would survive each year, and the country would save about $13 billion in health care costs annually.”

It seems that while everyone gives lip service to the importance of breastfeeding, there isn’t a lot of support for women once they make the decision to breastfeed. Women have been asked to cover up or leave restaurants, water parks, airplanes, and stores when they try to give their baby what’s “best.” Maternity leave in the United States is, at best, 12 weeks. Women who work outside the home have often been forced to pump their breast milk in bathroom stalls, hide under a desk, or sit in their car just to get a little bit of privacy because rooms for nursing/pumping mothers just don’t exist. So yes, breast might be best for baby, but until there are more regulations in place that allow moms to breastfeed without so many roadblocks, how can breast be “best” for moms?

There is, however, a bit of good news on the horizon. Health Care Reform is lending some support to breastfeeding moms with the Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law.

  • Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Health Care Reform), states that employers shall provide breastfeeding employees with “reasonable break time” and a private, non-bathroom place to express breast milk during the workday, up until the child’s first birthday.
  • Employers are not required to pay for time spent expressing milk, and employers of less than 50 employees shall not be required to provide the breaks if doing so would cause “undue hardship” to their business.

Tanya from The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog thinks this is a step in the right direction. “I’m not thrilled that it extends the right for only up to 1 year (I pumped longer for my son), but what a huge difference this would make for mothers in the many states, mine included, that do not extend this right under state law!”

Currently, only 24 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have legislation related to breastfeeding in the workplace. Yet women now comprise half the U.S. workforce, and are the primary breadwinner in nearly 4 out of 10 American families. The fastest growing segment of the workforce is women with children under age three.

Doula-ing is excited about the new law and calls it “a giant leap forward for mother’s who want to continue to breastfeed their babies once they return to work.”

Kim Hoppes, who doesn’t appear to be a fan of Health Care Reform is, however, pleased with this change. “Well, something good came out of the health care reform nightmare. Places now have to give breaks to nursing moms so they can pump.”

Lylah from Moms seems to think the new law is not enough and asks, “How can we expect 90 percent of new moms to breastfeed without support in the workplace?”

One thing seems pretty clear: If it’s in the country’s best interests to have new moms nurse their infants exclusively for at least six months — and the billions of dollars in health care savings indicates that it may be — then new moms should get at least six months of paid leave in which they can do so. The United States and Australia are the only two industrialized countries in the world that do not offer paid maternity leave. And moms in the Outback have a sweeter deal than we do: In Australia, your job is protected for a year, but in the United States new working moms only get that guarantee for 12 weeks.

What do you think about the Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law? Is it too much? Not enough? Just right? None of the government’s business?

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Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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17 thoughts on “Health Care Reform Lends Support to Breastfeeding Moms, But Is It Enough?”

  1. I don’t think its enough. Nipple confusion can be a problem. Also, some women never can pump enough, but when latched, baby gets plenty of milk. Offering only pumping solutions isn’t enough. Women also should be allowed at least 6 months to a year off if they are nursing and should get 2/3 to 100% pay. I was fortunate enough to stay home with my daughter until she was 15 months, I know that we would not still be nursing now if I had been working. For a time period between 8-12 months she was a nursing “snacker” and never took more than a few sips at a time from the breast. Without those frequent snacks, I’m sure she would have been weaned then. Bottles wouldn’t cut it.
    I also ran into the problem of having too much lipase in my milk, causing it to taste bitter after only 30 min. Freezing immediately didn’t fix this. I had to scald the breastmilk immediately after pumping or it would start breaking down. Workplace pumping wouldn’t have helped me, my daughter wouldn’t drink the bitter milk. With all the time it would take to pump_scald_cool_store the milk: I could have driven home to nurse my baby> Plus some of the nutritional content is damaged in the scalding process> Sorry for the weird punctuation

  2. I think the Reasonable Break is a step in the right direction, but not enough. We need a national law that says you can’t kick people out ANYWHERE for breastfeeding in public or outside of the home.

    And, there needs to be real support for mothers who try breastfeeding, but have problems, beyond just latch. I tried to attend La Leche meetings, and the leaders were fantastic, but the well meaning women there just made me feel inadequate, and I would go home feeling worse. Finally, I walked out of one crying and never went back.

    As I see it we have two camps:one that is high & mighty and says formula is just fine, don’t wig yourself out if you can’t BF. And a second camp that is high & mighty believing that Breast feeding is easy, and if you can’t do it, you either aren’t doing it “right” or you are lazy.

    My issue turns out to likely have been endocrine related and I never had a full supply, even for a single day. Had I known breast milk banks existed, I would have supplemented with that, but I didn’t. So, we need more genuine and positive (and non judgmental) support for all the moms who try breastfeeding, but have difficulty attaining success.

  3. The ornery part of me wants to see a law saying it is okay for a mom to pump anywhere she should be allowed to breastfeed– that is, anywhere. After all, if breastfeeding isn’t shameful, pumping shouldn’t be either. 😉

    (That was mostly a joke; I pumped for my first son and I know that having a baby attached to you is not nearly as exposing as having your nipple schlurrped into a clear plastic funnel for all the world to see.)

    Seriously, I’d be a lot happier with that Reasonable Break Time provision if I were sure “reasonable” was enough to get women the time they need. Some women have very slow let-down reflexes, particularly when pumping, so it can take quite a while to do what they need to do. “Reasonable” is just too vague.

    Regarding Alison’s comment, I think she is right about the need for realistic, non-judgmental support. My milk took almost two weeks to come in with my first son, and I remember feeling SO frustrated and sad and terrified, confronted as I was with this starving baby and nothing to give him. Getting back on track was HARD, and I could not have done it without lots of love & support from my family & friends.

    One thing that I think happens with the well-meaning women who make struggling moms feel worse is that they themselves have come through a struggle, and worked really hard and suffered and stuck it out and succeeded, and what they are seeking is someone to affirm them in that. And they should be affirmed and celebrated! There are so many breastfeeding situations where it would be so much easier to quit but these women grit their teeth and forge head no matter how painful and difficult it is.

    What we need to figure out is a way to publicly celebrate these stories of breastfeeding success without implying shame or deficiency in women who are still struggling, or for whom the struggle was just too much. I still don’t know how to do that.

  4. I think this is good news. But what I would really like to see is better maternity leave. I’m Canadian, so I received a full year of paid maternity leave with each baby. I wish US mothers had access to similar policies.

  5. Any and all support for nursing mothers is a good thing. Unfortunately, I delivered in a hospital that was not at all supportive. After an emergency C-section, I was put in recovery but wasn’t allowed to see my baby until almost five hours later. The nurse came into recovery, where they were trying to lower my blood pressure, to tell me my baby was hungry so they gave him a bottle despite my constant pleas to let me breastfeed. Later, when I tried, he didn’t want it. They sent in a lactation consultant who was not even remotely helpful or supportive.

  6. Thanks for this great summary of the new health care reform laws concerning breastfeeding. I have linked to this article from my natural birth website where I recently posted on the topic. You do a great service to the women in our country with this blog!

  7. I’m not a mother yet, but I’ve been able to recognize the important of breastfeeding. I wish it was better supported in this country. I wish women’s choices about childbearing were better supported in general. In some ways, it makes me afraid to have kids, because I want to be able to provide the best I can for them and right now, without being able to breastfeed in every situation I might need to, it’s really difficult to say that I’ll be able to do the best for them.

    I hope enough changes by the time I’m a mom so I never have to feel afraid or intimidated to give my kids the best.

  8. First of all, I totally support a year’s paid maternity leave for all mothers. Secondly, I am saddened that women do not have more support and encouragement to breastfeed. Two of my sisters had babies in the past six months and a couple of things struck me: first of all, in the hospital they were told that “if you’re doing it right it won’t hurt”. I told them later when they phoned me in tears that it certainly does hurt that first week – and it is ok and normal to be in tears lots over that first week or so. If they didn’t have me to talk with they may have given up b/c they thought they must have been doing it all wrong! Secondly, every single woman I know of personally who pumps ends up quitting breastfeeding considerably earlier than those who breastfeed exclusively. Perhaps it is that pumping feels like so much work or that there is a message that you should be out doing things for yourself and baby will be just fine with a bottle… I don’t know. It seems to me that the women who’ve chosen to baby wear and breastfeed exculsively tend to be happier with their nursing experience and continue on longer.

  9. It is a step in the right direction, but I hve to agree that the real issue here is maternity leave. I work for a large state university and was allowed to take 12 weeks off of work, but had to use my saved up sick leave and vacation time. I’m still breastfeeding a year later (and am fortunate to have bosses that understand and ‘gave’ me a closet to pump in), but my baby prefers the bottle. I’m determined to see it through until at least a year though.

  10. Honestly, I don’t think this is a step in the right direction. I feel like making it easier to pump in the work place and stressing how important it is to pump also makes it easier to push creating a reasonable maternity leave to back burner. I can just hear legislators saying, “We are breastfeeding friendly! We allow women to take breaks to pump!” Allowing for pumping just isn’t good enough.

    I’m an American living in Canada and will soon be enjoying my second year-long paid maternity leave. It makes breastfeeding and parenting so. much. easier. I think it’s abusive to expect women to go back to work 6-12 weeks after the birth of their child — breastfeeding or not. I applaud all the women in the States pumping and doing the best they can for their babies — but really, I think we as a country can do better than legislating pumping breaks. We need a real maternity leave policy that allows parents to bond with their children, breastfeed, and return to their jobs after they’ve had a chance to bond with their baby.

  11. As for me it is enough. Some moms experience a maltreatment regarding pumping inside the office and the place for pumping. I’ve red an article that she was been fired because of expressing milk and she even express milk inside the comfort room. It is not hygienic and to risky for the baby to intake an expressed milk inside the comfort room.

    It is not fair to be treated like that and with this health care reform for expressing milk inside the office. This is a great law that all moms are holding on.

  12. I worked for a company that allowed women to bring their infants to work till they turned six months. They also had lactation rooms on every floor that were outfitted with two huge, overstuffed rocking chairs, a flat screen tv and a changing table. There were also drapes between the chairs in case moms wanted to keep the experience private. At first I thought it was a distraction to have your child come to work with you but I got used to the babies at the office. It was fun attending their “graduations” too! I worked for the Department of Health Services. It was a great program and it was designed to encourage mothers to breastfeed.

  13. I’m not a mother yet, but I’ve been able to recognize the important of breastfeeding. I wish it was better supported in this country. I wish women’s choices about childbearing were better supported in general. In some ways, it makes me afraid to have kids, because I want to be able to provide the best I can for them and right now, without being able to breastfeed in every situation I might need to, it’s really difficult to say that I’ll be able to do the best for them.

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