Congress Looks at Breast-Feeding and the Workplace New Bill Supports a Woman's Decision to Breast-Feed after a Return to Work

Article excerpt

Ginny Gerbasi's employer was supportive of breast-feeding - so when the Washington mom had to make a sudden business trip, her boss tracked down a portable breast pump and had it delivered to her.

Nursing mother Laura Sullivan wasn't so fortunate. The president of her Michigan company refused to let her pump milk anywhere on the premises, even in her car in the parking lot, she says. She was fired eight days after making the request.

Unfortunately, experts say Ms. Sullivan's story, while extreme, is more representative. Despite a few exceptions, most US employers give no support to breast-feeding mothers, contributing to the decision of many new moms to quit nursing once back on the job, they say. But a bill introduced in Congress last week, the New Mothers' Breastfeeding Promotion and Protection Act, is designed to remedy the problem. The bill would guarantee the right of working women to breast-feed, and grant them unpaid breaks of up to an hour a day to express milk during their child's first year. It would also offer tax credits for employers who set up nursing stations, provide breast pumps, or hire lactation consultants. The bill marks the culmination of a recent wave of legislation in states and localities aimed at countering what experts view as deep-seated cultural, social, and economic bias against breast-feeding in the United States. It comes on the heels of new pediatric guidelines, announced in December, that urge women to nurse their babies for a full year. "New moms are being torn between holding on to their jobs and providing the healthiest nutrition possible for their new baby," says Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D) of New York, who introduced the bill with the backing of 15 Democrat co-sponsors. "There is no Republican interest yet," says a spokeswoman for Representative Maloney. She says the Democrats are trying to gather more co-sponsors, and are counting on a positive response from the public to the proposed legislation. But garnering widespread support may not be easy. In the United States, breast-feeding is less widespread than in most other industrialized countries. Less than 60 percent of US women are nursing at the time of hospital discharge, and fewer than 22 percent continue to nurse six months later, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). (The official US goals for breast-feeding for the year 2000 are 75 percent at initiation and 50 percent at six months, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.) For working women, the rates are even lower. About 55 percent of women employed outside the home start out breast-feeding their babies, but only 12.5 percent of full-time working mothers keep nursing for at least five months. STUDIES show that employers, as well as mothers and infants, would gain substantially from making arrangements to enable working women to keep breast-feeding. Research indicates that babies fed breast milk tend to be healthier, better developed, and more intelligent than those fed infant formula. …