I read this in the NYT on 8/1 and was a bit shocked by the comments section, wow, this is still a really hot topic. The Bebe au Lait nursing covers provide moms the opportunity to nurse, or pump, in a chic cocoon of privacy regardless of the situation–subway, during a dinner party or even in their office. Maybe I should send one to the author, in fact, I will. Here’s to moms everywhere that find a way to nurse their babies anytime and anywhere they need to and a thank you to Bebe au Lait for donating covers to rallies nationwide.
August 1, 2008, 4:34 pm
A Subway Ride to Support Breastfeeding Rights
By Sewell Chan
Feeding on the Subway Advocates and new mothers rode the A subway train to bring attention to World Breastfeeding Week in 2006. (Photo: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times)Today is the start of World Breastfeeding Week, and partly to mark the occasion, about 30 women nursing infants rode the A train from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia in Washington Heights to Nostrand Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. There, they exited the subway and joined a rally at Restoration Plaza.
But the women were not taking part in the annual subway ride, held since 2004, merely to demonstrate their right to breastfeed in public. (Since 1994, it has been legal for women to breastfeed anywhere in public — “irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breastfeeding” — under the state’s Civil Rights Law.)
The women were advocating for the Breastfeeding Bill of Rights, a legislative proposal that has passed the Assembly in Albany but has stalled in the State Senate, in part because of concerns raised by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The law would affirm that pregnant women have the right to information about the “nutritional, medical and psychological benefits of breastfeeding”; the right to stay with their babies immediately and continuously after delivery “to facilitate beginning breastfeeding immediately”; the right to refuse bottle feeding for their newborns in hospitals or other health care facilities; the right to be informed about and refuse any drugs that may dry up breast milk; and the right to “refuse any gifts or take-home packets, distributed by the maternal health care facility, that contain commercial advertising or product samples.” (There has already been a strong push to eliminate baby formula samples from hospital gift bags.)
Most of the legislation affirms what is already on the books in state laws or regulations, but the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, said the proposal “codifies mothers’ rights to breastfeed into a single, concise document and bans commercial interests from influencing new mothers’ choice of breastfeeding.”
Ms. Krueger criticized a fellow state senator, Kemp Hannon, Republican of Long Island, saying he “has kept the Breastfeeding Bill of Rights bottled up in committee for too long,” and noting that the Assembly has twice passed the bill, the last time unanimously.
In a phone interview, Mr. Hannon said he was not opposed in principle to the legislation, but was sensitive to concerns raised by obstetricians and gynecologists about the wording of the proposal. Some of the language concerning access to information, he said, could be read to mean “interference in the practice of medicine.”
Senators Krueger and Hannon both said that the bill’s supporters had tried to address the doctors’ concerns. Ms. Krueger gave him stacks of paper toward the recent end of the legislative session, Mr. Hannon said, documenting how the bill mostly enshrined provisions already contained in state laws or regulations.
“It’s a fine idea, but the implementation is something you have to be very cautious about,” Mr. Hannon said. “You can’t practice medicine by legislative enactment.”
He added that he would be willing to have the Standing Committee on Health, which he leads, take a look at the bill if the doctors’ concerns are addressed. “The goal is quite laudatory,” he said, while adding, “I think we should leave the practice of medicine to people who are licensed to do that.”
Ms. Krueger said the bill represents a consensus among health care providers, nutritionists, lactation specialists and others involved in the issue, including the New York City Breastfeeding Promotion Leadership Committee, a working group that includes government agencies, nonprofit groups and health care providers.
The committee includes groups like the Black Women’s Breastfeeding Alliance, the Bronx Breastfeeding Committee and La Leche League International, which focus on black and Hispanic women.
Traditionally, white women and middle-class and affluent women have been far more likely to breastfeed than minority women and women from working-class or poor backgrounds. Many working women find breastfeeding to be too time-consuming or complicated.
The dispute appears, so far, to be one of language and not ideology.
The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends breastfeeding an infant through the first year, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports has endorsed breastfeeding because it reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancers, adult-onset diabetes and osteoporosis.
Studies suggest that more than two-thirds of mothers breastfeed after being discharged from the hospital, but the proportion drops dramatically after six months. Hospital-based programs that encourage breastfeeding have been shown to result in women breastfeeding for longer periods.
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