State should extend breastfeeding protections to get even more benefits for babies

Press of Atlantic City Editorial Board

New Jersey and the nation have made great strides toward public acceptance of breastfeeding as the evidence for its benefits has mounted. There’s still a little further to go, and a proposal in the state Legislature would help.

Sponsored by Assembly members Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland, and Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, the bill would extend civil-rights protections to nursing mothers.

Frankly, some of those protections probably aren’t needed, such as from discrimination in housing or borrowing.

But the broad approach wouldn’t hurt and would provide needed support for women nursing toddlers and those nursing or pumping milk at small businesses.

Federal data shows nursing infants need less sick care, fewer prescriptions and less time in the hospital. Breastfeeding strengthens a baby’s immunity, lessens the chance of future obesity and supports development.

No wonder New Jersey has seen a jump in mothers who have breastfed at some point, from 72 percent in 2010 to 82 percent this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But here’s the less encouraging number: Fewer than 53 percent sustained breastfeeding through the first six months.

That’s an important benchmark, since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby’s life.

Since the benefits of breastfeeding keep accumulating for years longer, the academy urges mothers to continue through the first year and beyond. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding up to 2 years and older.

Current state and federal protections, although strong, don’t extend to nursing babies beyond 12 months. And while they provide workplace protections, these don’t apply to businesses with fewer than 50 employees. That’s a lot of businesses.

The Assembly bill, which cleared its Labor Committee last month, and an identical Senate bill would cover those gaps in existing law.

It would also require employers to give nursing mothers time and a private place (and not just a stall in a bathroom) to feed babies or pump milk. It would not expressly permit women to bring children to work to be breastfed.

These extensions of protections seem reasonable in light of the benefits of extended nursing.

The Legislature should pass the bills and the governor should sign them soon to bring these benefits to more children.