Breastfeeding: What's a law got to do with it?

The world of breastfeeding promotion and advocacy received great news in July 2018 when it was reported that all 50 states have passed laws protecting the right for women to breastfeed in places of accommodation. The last two states to sign on were Idaho and Utah.

Healthy People 2020 goals are to increase breastfeeding initiation rates to 81.9%; exclusive breastfeeding through six months to 25.55 and continued breastfeeding to year one to 34.1%. According to CDC 2016 Breastfeeding report card, the US rates are 81.1%, 22.3% and 30.7%, respectively. Louisiana falls far behind with breastfeeding rates of 60.9%, 11.8%, and 13.3%, respectively. Studies find that up to 60% of women do not achieve their personal breastfeeding goals for several reasons including cultural norms; unsupportive hospital and workplace policies and inadequate parental leave, all of which are known contributors to lower breastfeeding initiation and duration rates.
Breastfeeding laws provide a level of protection to support mothers on the road to overcoming the many barriers to breastfeeding. Federal law protecting women’s right to breastfeed (the Nursing Mothers Law) was passed as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, but workplaces across the country have been slow to implement provisions required by this law.

In 2013 the Mary Amelia Center embarked on research to determine the awareness and implementation of current national worksite breastfeeding legislation in Louisiana. A follow-up survey was conducted in 2015 (see Alb et al., 2017). In 2013, 182 worksites responded compared to 252 in 2015. In 2013, we found that awareness of the law was lower than it should have been and that outreach needed to be conducted to improve awareness and provide sites tools to better improve implementation. Worksites with more than 50 employees were more likely to be aware of the law than smaller businesses.

The 2015 survey found that 81.4% (n=140) of worksites had heard about the Nursing Mothers Law and were implementing it. One in five worksites reported they were unaware about the law, but their workplace has begun to implement support for breastfeeding mothers. On the contrary, 28 (10.9%) indicated they heard about the law, but had not begun to implement it. We found no correlation between type of work industry and offering paid leave, implementation or heard about the law.

Unsupportive workplaces are a known barrier to improving breastfeeding rates. Many pregnant women have to return to work within six to twelve weeks of giving birth, some less than four weeks. Given this challenge, returning to a supportive workplace can ease the burden of having to pump and allows women to continue to provide the ideal food for her growing infant. While supportive breastfeeding workplace and public policies are a step in the right direction, more is needed, including the provision of paid parental leave to allow new parents more time at home to recover, bond, and nurture their newborn. Stay tuned for more on our paid leave Louisiana advocacy efforts!