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Healthcare Reform Gives Nursing Moms A Break at Work

Good news for nursing mothers: Under President Obama’s new health care reform law, all employers must provide unpaid break time and an appropriate space for nursing mothers to pump breast milk at work, according to USA Today.

It’s a “revolution in American culture,” according to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), who sponsored the breastfeeding portion of the legislation in the Senate. “Essentially, until now there’s never been a national discussion, a national sense of, ‘Oh, of course this is something we should accommodate,’ ” Merkley told USA Today.

Pumping at work can be a real drag — especially when there’s no time or appropriate place to do it, so this could be a huge shift in the right direction. The new law specifies that employees must have “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

The breast-feeding provision took effect when President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23, but it’s still not clear how it will be enforced.

Under the new legislation, employers must provide “reasonable break time” for an employee to pump breast milk until her child turns one. Small companies (with fewer than 50 workers) won’t have to follow the law if it would cause an “undue hardship.”

I was surprised to learn that the legislation covers only women who are paid an hourly wage. Some state laws, however, cover both.

It’s about time that the government supported breastfeeding in a concrete way. There’s so much pressure on women to breastfeed, but not a lot of public or institutional support for it. On the one hand, women are criticized if they don’t nurse their baby and on the other hand, they’re criticized if they nurse in public. Sometimes, it seems as if moms just can’t win. I’m hoping this is one instance where they can.

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