This session the Texas Legislature has the opportunity to increase the number of babies and toddlers receiving breast milk by helping make worksites breastfeeding-friendly. A hearing scheduled for Tuesday, March 17th on bills by Representatives Farrar and Walle will be a key step in the process.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for infants until approximately six months of age and continued breastfeeding until at least 12 months. For working moms who choose to breastfeed, navigating work and breastfeeding can be particularly challenging. This has lead to a decline in the total number of nursing mothers. According to The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, "infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice.”
Benefits of Breastfeeding
The health benefits for babies who breastfeed include reduced likelihood of conditions like diabetes, cancer, obesity and gastrointestinal and respiratory infections. Breastfeeding can also improve the neurodevelopmental outcomes of children.
Mothers benefit from nursing too. A decrease in postpartum depression and postpartum blood loss was found for mothers who breastfeed. A correlation was also found between nursing and a decrease in breast and ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding also has economic benefits. The same study that noted infant and maternal health benefits found that "if 90% of US mothers would comply with the recommendation to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, there would be a savings of $13 billion per year.”
Current Federal Law
Current federal law states that all employers must provide breastfeeding accommodations to any employee that is paid hourly. Accommodations refer to the ability of the employee to take a break in a private location (other than a bathroom) in order to breastfeed or use a pump. The current law does not include salaried employees and allows companies with less than 50 employees to apply for an exemption.
Current Legislative Proposals
Several bills have been proposed in the Texas Legislature to expand and improve those protections for nursing mothers:
- Senator Judith Zaffirini’s SB 26, Rep. Mary Gonzalez's HB 1898, and Rep. Jessica Farrar’s HB 232 require all state agencies, such as TEA, DPS, and HHSC, to develop policies supporting worksite breastfeeding for all of their employees, to the extent reasonably practicable. HB 232 also strengthens protections of a mother’s right to breastfeed in public.
- Senator Sylvia Garcia's SB 1479 takes a similar approach but requires school districts, rather than state agencies, to provide reasonable break time and a private space for employees to express breast milk.
- Rep. Armando Walle’s HB 786 goes further, extending protections to all public employees, including state employees, public school teachers, and city government staff.
The Legislature can also support efforts at the Texas Workforce Commission to encourage child care facilities to be more supportive of breastfeeding.
It’s time for the Legislature to support Texan children and mothers by improving laws on breastfeeding.