Since women now comprise about half of the U.S. workforce, and moms are now the primary breadwinners in nearly 40% of American families, it is not surprising that the Health Care Reform Law recently passed at the federal level includes specifics regarding breastfeeding in the workplace. Breastfeeding has long been known as the source of tremendous benefit to both mother and child, and recent evidence has revealed that there are risks to American public health and to the economy when long term breastfeeding fails. The latest research suggests that while most women choose to breastfeed, it is often difficult for them to succeed due to a lack of effective support for their breastfeeding efforts. Often, it is the return to work that causes lactation failure, as mothers struggle to find the balance between the demands of their job and the demands of maintaining milk supply. For these reasons, it is now recognized that legal protection for employed, lactating women in the workplace makes sense.
The section of the Health Care Reform that deals with lactation provisions is Section 4207, and it creates a number of basic standards in the workplace. In this section, it is written that employers of greater than 50 employees must provide provide breastfeeding employees with “reasonable break time” and a private, non-bathroom place to express breast milk during the workday, up until the child’s first birthday. It is suggested that employers of fewer than 50 employees will not be required to provide these benefits, if doing so would cause undue hardship to the business, but compliance with the law is still suggested. In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services published a resource tool known as "The Business Case for Breastfeeding," which informs employers of the financial return on their investment when they provide favorable conditions for breastfeeding employees at work. According to the research included in this kit, for every $1 dollar spent on lactation support in the workplace, an employer can expect to receive $2 dollars in benefit due to fewer missed days of work by new mothers and reduced attrition.
In Fresno, new mothers who must return to work a few weeks after delivering a baby will be happy to know that this legal provision is supporting their efforts to continue breastfeeding, but actually, California has had a similar law in place for some time, called the Lactation Accommodation Law. Having a federal law in place which echoes the legislative effort in California serves to strengthen the state's legal position on the subject. While it has not yet been determined exactly how long the milk expression breaks must be according to the federal law, the Department of Labor is working to define the terms of the law as well as enforcement plans, and may model those determinations on California's standards. As the details of the Health Care Reform Law become more clearly defined and understood, the hope is that increasing numbers of working women throughout the country will successfully breastfeed beyond the first few weeks. Hopefully, more lucky babies in Fresno and beyond will receive breast milk for at least their first year of life.