Op-ed: Pennsylvania fails new mothers in the workplace


This is an excerpt of an editorial written by WLP’s Amal Bass and Tara Murtha recently published on PennLive.com:

Twenty-six years after the World Health Organization and other international groups signed a document calling to protect, promote and support breastfeeding in order to improve public health, U.S. breastfeeding rates still fall short of national goals.

This failure is not due to lack of information about the problem, but rather a lack of political will rooted in a sexist refusal to acknowledge, and accommodate, the needs of working mothers.

Working mothers are the sole or primary breadwinner in two-thirds of American families, yet the United States is the only developed country in the world that provides zero weeks of paid leave for new parents, a situation that forces many new mothers back to work within weeks, or even days, of childbirth.


The Pennsylvania state Capitol building dome in Harrisburg (Dan Gleiter, The Patriot-News)

In Pennsylvania, many moms are forced to choose between breastfeeding babies and earning a paycheck.

Medical experts at WHO, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups recommend new mothers breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months of a baby’s life, and then continue breastfeeding for one year, or for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby. The Center for Disease Control cites increasing breastfeeding rates as a “key strategy” for improving the health of Americans.

Breast milk provides infants and mothers with a wide range of benefits. Breastfed babies tend to have a lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, a lower risk of hospitalization for respiratory tract infections, and a lower rate of gastro-intestional problems. Health benefits for breastfeeding mothers include a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Nonetheless, Pennsylvania has failed to enact workplace protections that would enable more new mothers to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.

Perhaps this speaks to the priorities of a General Assembly that is 82 percent male, but it is a basic biological fact that a woman who recently gave birth simply can’t go eight hours without expressing breast milk five days a week, or perform even longer shift work, and still maintain her milk supply.

You can read the rest of the piece here.

Despite all the evidence supporting the need to pass legislation that supports new mothers, The Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act (House Bill 1100), sponsored by Rep. Mary Jo Daley and Rep. David Parker, has been sitting in the Labor & Industry Committee in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for 15 months.

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The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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