No breastfeeding mom should worry she might be fired

Times of Trenton Editorial Board

In addition to bonding mother and baby in the crucial months after childbirth, the benefits of breastfeeding show up in surprising ways.

Research suggests that if 90 percent of families breastfed exclusively for six months, nearly 1,000 infant deaths could be avoided.

The compelling figure comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which also notes that nursing infants usually need fewer sick-care visits, fewer prescriptions and less time in the hospital.

Now a group of New Jersey lawmakers is looking to widen protections for nursing mothers, extending existing laws to include women who work for small businesses, as well as those who continue nursing after their babies turn a year old.

The Assembly Labor Committee recently unanimously approved Bill A2294, which would make it a civil rights violation for a working woman to be fired or otherwise discriminated against for breastfeeding or expressing her milk during breaks.

NJSpotlight reported that the bill also requires employers to provide reasonable break times every day, along with a suitable location for a breastfeeding worker – not a toilet stall – to express her milk in private.

Under the measure proposed by Assembly members Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) and Bob Andrzejczak (D-Cape May), the state's 1945 anti-discrimination statute would add breastfeeding to several categories – including race, religion, disability and sexual orientation – that must be treated equally.

That means nursing mothers would be protected against discrimination in the workplace, as well as in getting a job, securing housing, obtaining a loan or mortgage or doing other business.

We've made great strides in recent years in providing accommodations for families that opt for nursing over bottle feeding. President Obama's Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to include breastfeeding supplies and counseling, and hospitals in the state actively encourage new mothers to go that route if possible.

For the most part, it's working.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2010, 72 percent of mothers in New Jersey had nursed their babies at one point. Six years later, the figure had soared to 82 percent.

But there are still coverage gaps, cautions Vainieri Huttle: The existing law does not extend to women nursing babies over 12 months. Nor does it apply to women working at companies with fewer than 50 employees.

Every family's circumstances are different, of course, but the CDC generally encourages women to breastfeed as long as possible to build up their children's immunity to such ailments as asthma, childhood obesity, respiratory infection and Type 2 diabetes.

We're 100 percent behind any efforts to give babies the best available start in life. The New Jersey Legislature can help make that happen.