08/05/2015 04:57 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2016

Improve Breastfeeding Options for Working Moms

Years of research have documented the many benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and their infants. Not only does breast milk help infants thrive and grow, but the experience also fosters the bond between mother and child. Despite the many benefits of breastfeeding, women still struggle to find safe, clean and private places to breastfeed and pump milk.

Leading health organizations, including AWHONN, recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants during the first six months of life, at a minimum. While an even longer time span is better, many mothers do not make it to six months because of the structural barriers in place that make breastfeeding or pumping so difficult, including short or unpaid maternity leaves, inaccurate information regarding breastfeeding, spotty insurance coverage for lactation services and supplies, and a lack of private, clean, and safe places to pump or breastfeed.

Accommodations for certain breastfeeding women in the workplace were established in the Affordable Care Act. These women must have access to a private space in the workplace that is not a bathroom and must be given break time to pump. However, the law only applies to hourly paid workers and to companies with 50 or more employees. Women that are salaried or work for a smaller employer do not have the same protections; women who travel for work may have an even more difficult time finding a place to pump.

A recent study assessing U.S. airports found that of the top 100, only eight airports actually provide private lactation spaces. This leaves many traveling mothers to resort to using the restroom, which is not hygienic for breastfeeding or pumping breast milk.

Recently proposed legislation, called The Friendly Airports for Mothers (FAM) Act, would require large and medium airports (63 in total) to provide a private space in each terminal for mothers to breastfeed or pump. Airports would be given two years to comply and would be able to apply for Airport Improvement Program Funds. Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) wrote about her experience as a new mother and the challenges she faced in breastfeeding while traveling. Her personal experiences and hearing from other mothers across the nation contributed to the introduction of the FAM Act.

In an era when most mothers are working and many are traveling, improved accessibility to private, clean and safe lactation spaces should be a priority. AWHONN encourages women to write to their Representative and share their stories about the challenges of finding an adequate breastfeeding space, especially while traveling. Tell your legislators why breastfeeding matters and how supporting working moms is so important.