Washington, DC—A new report released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds that provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will increase the number of working mothers who breastfeed their children up to the age of six months, particular among lower income and hourly employees. The report estimates the increase to 47 percent of mothers breastfeeding at six months will fall short of the target of 60.5 percent established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 goals released this month.
“These protections represent a great victory for working mothers and the economy, but we need to do more to improve the ability of employed mothers to breastfeed,” said Robert Drago, director of research with IWPR. Better Health for Mothers and Children: Breastfeeding Accommodations under the Affordable Care Act, by Robert Drago, Ph.D., Jeffrey Hayes, Ph.D., and Youngmin Yi shows first-ever estimates of coverage for breastfeeding under ACA provisions by income, education, age, and race/ethnicity.
“This report describes that roughly 19 million American women of all backgrounds—about the size of New York—don’t have to make the gut-wrenching decision to stop breastfeeding when they return to work, knowing that there is a law to support them in their infant feeding decision,” said Robin Stanton, MA, RD, LD, chair of the United States Breastfeeding Committee.
The ACA accommodations for breastfeeding in the workplace require private, sanitary facilities for hourly employees to express milk. The report estimates the legislation will result in an annual increase of 165,000 women who breastfeed their children, and will affect more than one million mothers and their children over the course of the next six years.
The ACA included a provision from the Breastfeeding Promotion Act first introduced by U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in June 2009.
“The provision [included in the ACA] ensures that low-income mothers are provided break time for expressing milk in the workplace,” said Rep. Maloney. “Protecting the rights of working mothers who wish to breastfeed, particularly hourly workers who tend to be the least likely to have access to these types of protections, is truly one of the best ways to give our children a healthy start in life.”
“The ACA law recognizes that women are vital to the U.S. economy and that their needs are important,” said Melissa Bartick, MD, instructor with Harvard Medical School and chair of the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition. “Four out of 10 women are the primary breadwinners for their families.”
Hourly employees are typically less able to express breast milk once they return to work compared to salaried employees who may have access to dedicated facilities under workplace policies. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mothers who are young, low-income, do not hold a college diploma, or are Hispanic or African American are less likely to breastfeed.