Public Health in the National News – Given that the health benefits of feeding breast milk are well established, it may seem that infant feeding decisions should be fairly straightforward. The reality is that for mothers in the United States the decision to feed breast milk or formula is quite complex. Mothers make this decision in an environment that includes the need to balance social and economic considerations as well as influences from social and community networks.
Feeding human milk to babies may well be one of the most cost-effective prevention efforts we can undertake to protect our infants from infections and illness. Feeding breast milk exclusively until 6 months of age is supported by organizations such as the CDC, the World Health Organization/UNICEF, and multiple provider-related professional organizations.
In the United States, there are provisions in place at both the national and state level to support mothers who choose to feed breast milk. At the national level, Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as the Health Care Reform Act) amends Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 by adding the following provisions: “1(A) An employer shall provide a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk; and (B) a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”
At the state level, Idaho is now the only state that does not have a law protecting a mother’s right to nurse in public. Many of the U.S. state laws are similar to the one that passed in Nebraska in 2011, which simply states that a mother “may breastfeed her child in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to go.” Unfortunately, it’s left to the employee to pursue corrective action when employers or others fail to abide by these laws. Still, there is much that public health practitioners and others can do to encourage and support nursing mothers. One way is to become familiar with and promote the U.S. Surgeon General’s call to action that identifies ways that families, communities, employers, and health care professionals can improve breastfeeding rates and increase support for breastfeeding. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, the CDC, and the World Health Organization all offer information and resources to encourage and support breast milk feeding.
This article was written by Lea Pounds, MBA, an instructor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health.