My Journey into the Health Policy Arena as a Breastfeeding Advocate

From a phone call to national legislation, my journey into the health policy arena to advocate breastfeeding

Section 4207 of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also know 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”. Like most of my colleagues in the Lactation Consulting and breastfeeding support communities, I rejoiced when I learned that this section had been added to the Health Care Reform legislation. We have all been working so long and hard to increase the breastfeeding rates and durations in this country, and in our eyes this is a huge step in the right direction.

I am proud of my own small contribution to this effort which began in 1995. I had noticed that my Representative to congress, Connie Morella (R MD) had become chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus, and I called her office to ask if I could talk with them about the problems women had in continuing to breastfeed after returning to work. I had a very nice conversation with the staffer in her office handling health issues and this staffer arranged for my colleague, Rona Cohen, and I to make a presentation concerning this issue to a meeting of the staffers for the caucus. We made our presentation on October 16, 1995. I remember this date because it was also the date of the Million Man March on Washington, and the activities of the march could be heard outside the window of the room where we met with the caucus staffers. The staffers all seemed very interested in the topic and asked very good questions. I am sure that some of them were themselves struggling with the issue of how to continue breastfeeding after return to a very busy workplace. Rona and I felt that we had a good meeting, and that it had been fun to go to Capitol Hill, but we wondered if anything would come of it.

Fast forward 2 years and I received a call from a staffer for Representative Carolyn Maloney (D) of New York, who had evidently heard our talk to the staffers of the women’s caucus, and now wanted some additional information. Representative Maloney’s staffer invited me to come to her office and discuss some new legislation they were planning to introduce concerning breastfeeding. I went to Capitol Hill and met with her providing additional information and suggestions for the legislation, as well as suggesting others in the field who she should speak with about the topic.

Representative Maloney went on to introduce legislation concerning Breastfeeding Promotion that involved many of the points we had discussed. Portions of Representative Maloney’s breastfeeding legislation past that first year, but not all provisions passed. She continued to introduce Breastfeeding legislation in each session of congress and in 2009 the Breastfeeding Promotion Act (H.R. 2819, S. 1744), which she co-sponsored with Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) was inserted into the Health Care Reform bill that ultimately passed earlier this year.

It has taken fifteen years, and many hours of work by many breastfeeding advocates, but we now have legislation on the books that requires all employers to not only think about support for breastfeeding women in their workplace but actually do something about it. The potential impact on the health of mothers and babies in this country is huge, and I am so happy that long ago I took that first small step of calling my representative in congress and asking to be heard.

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