When I was breastfeeding my daughter, I was lucky enough to have a comfortable private space at work to express breast milk and supervisors who understood the necessity of taking breaks. Now, thanks to the recently passed health care reform bill, more working mothers will have similar benefits. Under the new law, employers will be required to provide reasonable unpaid breaks and a private place, other than a bathroom, for mothers to express breast milk. Employers with fewer than 50 employees will be exempted from these requirements if they would impose “an undue hardship.” This will help protect women like LaNisa Allen who was fired from her job at the Totes/Isotoner Corp. in Cincinnati for pumping during an “unscheduled” break.
Why is this an important health issue? Because breastfeeding provides substantial benefits to both babies and mothers. According to one study, women who breastfed for at least one year were less likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular diseases compared to mothers who never breastfed. The health benefits began for mothers who breastfed for six months but became stronger the longer breastfeeding continued. Breastfed babies are less likely to develop ear infections, stomach viruses, asthma, diabetes and childhood leukemia. Breastfed babies are also less likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The cost of treating three common illnesses in non-breastfed babies during the first year of life is approximately $475 more than the cost of treating those illnesses in breastfed babies.
Not all mothers are able or want to breastfeed. Sometimes, it’s because there are too many barriers that make breastfeeding challenging for new mothers. Thanks to this law, fear of losing your job because you need to take a break to pump or fear of exposing yourself to your co-workers because you cannot find a private place to express breast milk will no longer be among those barriers. Hopefully, as employers begin to see the benefits of supporting breastfeeding, such as fewer sick days, workplaces will become more breastfeeding friendly. It would be nice, for example, if employers were required to provide paid breaks for mothers to pump. In the meantime, this law is a step in the right direction.
Photo by planet_oleary via Flickr