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Education is Key to Increasing Rates of Breastfed Infants

posted on Tue, Sep 10 2013 11:54 am by Leila Barraza

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently identified progress towards achieving the Healthy People 2020 target of breastfeeding rates. The target rates specify that 60 percent of American infants be breastfed at six months old, and 34 percent at 12 months old. The CDC’s Breastfeeding Report Card for 2013 shows 49 percent of infants breastfed at six months of age in 2010, an increase from 35 percent in 2000; and 27 percent of 12-month-old infants breastfed in 2010, an increase from 16 percent in 2000. 

The rise in breastfed babies in the U.S. is of personal interest to me because I am a nursing mom, and also a working mom. I am an attorney in public health — an area that advocates breastfeeding and its numerous benefits. I have tried very hard to practice what I preach and continue nursing — at least through the first year as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics — even when my work takes me away from my baby during the day.

Nursing an infant is not without its challenges, but working nursing moms face the unique challenge of providing breast milk to their nursing infant during the work day. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) aims to alleviate this challenge by requiring certain employers to permit nursing mothers reasonable break times to express milk (see the Network’s Issue Brief on Health Care Reform and Nursing Mothers for more information). I am very fortunate to work in the area of public health law with colleagues who are supportive, but other nursing mothers do not always find themselves in a similar situation. Some mothers who nurse may find it almost impossible to continue to breastfeed when they return to work after maternity leave.

In an ideal public health world, all mothers who wish to breastfeed their babies would be able to do so, even after returning to work, because this relationship benefits both the mother and the child. Education is a key component to making that a reality. The Network for Public Health Law provides key legal assistance to nursing mothers regarding the aforementioned protections under the Affordable Care Act and other laws that reduce barriers to breastfeeding. In addition, the National Conference of State Legislatures provides a listing of state breastfeeding laws, ranging from public indecency exceptions to jury duty exemptions for breastfeeding mothers. 

Nursing mothers also face the challenge of breast milk storage, and the CDC provides useful guidance on the proper handling and storage. Transporting expressed milk through various arenas, such as airports, can also pose challenges for nursing mothers. The Transportation and Security Administration provides information detailing policies surrounding traveling with breast milk. By educating nursing mothers on available laws and resources that support breastfeeding, the next CDC breastfeeding report will hopefully show an even greater increase in the number of breastfed babies.

This information was developed by Leila Barraza, J.D., M.P.H., deputy director, Network for Public Health Law – Western Region at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University (ASU).

The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state. The views expressed in this post do not reflect those of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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