Over the past months, we have been sharing some of the many reforms to the health care system that impact the lives of thousands of Wisconsin women. So often when we speak of health reform we think of reforms to health insurance practices and increasing access to quality coverage -which are ever so important! Today, we are taking a moment to highlight a very important reform for women that will improve health, save money and will impact the lives of many new mothers in Wisconsin.
A section of the new health care law amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and requires that employers provide certain working mothers with “reasonable break time… 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.” Further, they must provide the new mom with “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public” in which the mother can express the milk. This change makes it easier and more comfortable for nursing mothers to pump breast milk at work and continue giving their newborn all the health benefits that breastfeeding has to offer.
Newborns who are breastfed have a reduced risk of adverse health outcomes such as becoming obese or developing diabetes and developing good respiratory health. Experts say that increasing the amount of new moms who breastfeed to 90 percent would save 900 lives per year and save the United States $13 billion. However, in the United States, the number of women who breastfeed remains low – and in tough economic times the necessity to return to work shortly after becoming a new mom creates a barrier for women who want to breastfeed.
While it is recommended that newborns are breastfed exclusively for at least the first 6 months, currently only 13.6% are and only 43% are breastfed at all at 6 months of age. Additionally, one study shows that taking paid leave after a new baby arrives is also beneficial both in terms of breastfeeding exclusively and in terms of its economic benefits. Women who take paid leave are less likely to receive public assistance for food assistance and more likely to report an increase in wages after one year of returning to work.
Further, black and low income women are disproportionately lower in breastfeeding prevalence than white women and women of higher incomes. Many factors contribute to the low rates of black and low income women who breastfeed including: lack of access to breastfeeding classes and support, lack of support among family members, and lack of access to pumping equipment to use upon return to work and at home. Along with the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) requirements to allow mother’s to pump in the workplace the law also requires breastfeeding support and education and rental of breast pumps be covered as preventative services with no co pays or deductibles in all new insurance plans.
These provisions, which became effective immediately upon the law’s passage almost two years ago, creates a pathway for moms to continue breastfeeding their newborns while still being able to return to work if need be. The ability to continue breastfeeding while returning to work is without a doubt a major win for Wisconsin women. Additionally, receiving more education and access to pumping equipment as covered medical care will help to close the gaps between white women and women of higher incomes and black and low income women.
The Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health (WAWH) continues to raise awareness through our Raising Wisconsin’s Women’s Voices health care reform blog. You can read about additional benefits of breastfeeding, here.