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
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 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. …