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Keep Government Hands Off Our Breasts

by Diane Barnes

As a working woman I encountered first-hand the difficulties of balancing employment obligations with caring for a newborn. Three times , actually.

Being a conscientious mother, I wanted to follow the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics and breastfeed my babies through the first your. Breastfed babies are half as likely to have any illnesses during that first year compared to formula-fed babies and are 10 times less likely to be hospitalized for any bacterial infection.

The difficulties I experience in trying to provide the best for my babies while simultaneously making a living led me to realize that women needed help and support in these circumstances. I decided that I would provide the means to meet that need and started my own business called Maternal Expressions to do just that.

We help hundreds of women each year return to work while they continue to breastfeed. We have been instrumental in education women about the benefits of breastfeeding, not only for her infant but for employer as well. And my company is not the only one. The yellow pages lists others under the heading "breastfeeding information and pumps.". Even some hospitals rent pumping equipment and provide back to work counseling.

I'm certain that it is this same concern that has prompted Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) to introduce the "New Mothers' Breastfeeding Promotion and Protection Act".

This bill would grant working moms unpaid breastfeeding breaks of up to an hour per day, give tax incentives for companies to set up lactation rooms, require the FDA to develop minimum standards for breast pumps, and expand support for breastfeeding promotion and education programs.

Though I obviously share Congresswoman Maloney's concerns with regard to this issue, the fact is that the private sector has been providing back to work assistance for women who breastfeed for several years now.

A 1993 study by Best Start Kentucky concluded that it cost an employer an estimated $360 dollars each day a $15.00 an hour employee was off work caring for a sick child. Companies who value their employees know the working parent faces increased stress. This stress transfers to the workplace through employees who are absent or less productive because of having to care for a sick child.

Moms wishing to express milk at work need only point to those studies to convince employers that providing a lactation facility (a clean, private room equipped with a comfortable place to use a hospital-grade breast pump) is cost effective.

In the past 5 years I have assisted a number of women in diffucult work situations. I believe what is most needed is simply the will to make the effort. Postal workers, police officers waitresses even sales women working from their cars, have found ways to express breastmilk at work. Further, I have found that corporations and small businesses are already responding to the on-site needs of new moms without government incentives or addition laws.

"We know that men run most of the nation's big corporations," said Congresswomen Maloney in introducing the new legislation. I guess they're uncomfortable with the notion of a woman doing something so intimate at work like expression milk,.....women are a large part of the work force, corporations just need to wake up to the facts."

But mandates and legislation never change attitudes. a law that forces business to provide some specifically defined benefit, preempting personalized agreements with each employee, promotes an adversarial work environment where bare minimum legal mandates are met with resentment and hostility instead of cooperation and team work.

Breastfeeding is best left in the hands of health care providers, counselors and others in the private sector who are dedicated to educating and supporting nursing moms--not according to the dictates of government bureaucrats (also , incidentally, mostly men) who have no idea of the needs of women in this intimate area of their lives.

Ms Barnes may be reached at dbarnes98@aol.com

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