According to both UNICEF and the World Health Organization, breastfeeding helps young children grow, prevents undernutrition, promotes brain development and reduces risk of becoming overweight.
Breastfeeding also provides important antibodies and boosts a baby’s immune system, according to the organizations.
But for many parents, breastfeeding can be difficult because it isn’t always supported in the workplace or in public.
Local advocates and lawmakers are looking to change that. Last Wednesday morning, dozens of parents braved the rain to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week and advocate for better maternal health policies.
Christine Yearwood, founder of the organization Up-Stand, which seeks to make life easier for pregnant women and families, said breastfeeding in public became legal in all 50 states just this year. But those policies have already seen “pushback” from the White House, she said.
“So we’re making strides, but we have a long way to go,” Yearwood said. “We want to support breastfeeding mothers.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, a mother of two daughters, made history in New York by becoming the first member of the City Council to give birth while serving in office. Since joining Congress, Maloney has pushed for policies to guarantee women both the time and place to pump milk at work.
She has also advocated to make it illegal for women to lose their jobs or be discriminated against for pumping during lunch time or breaks.
“Ensuring that mothers have the freedom and ability to breastfeed and care for their children outside the home should be something that every public official supports,” she said.
The congresswoman noted that when she first arrived in Washington, a woman was arrested in Congress for breastfeeding. Other women were arrested for breastfeeding in a park and in a museum.
So Maloney worked to pass a law that prevents women from being arrested or removed from public property for breastfeeding.
On the city level, local lawmakers have also made strides to improve accessibility for parents. In 2016, the City Council passed Local Law 94, which directs the Department of Health to open lactation rooms in facilities under city jurisdiction.
According to Councilman Costa Constantinides, the City Council is now looking to expand accommodations to include police precincts, public schools, firehouses and more locations.
“We’re looking to codify rules in which employers must give reasonable accommodations to any employee who needs to express milk,” he said.
Councilman Donovan Richards, who is the father of a toddler, added that he is “definitely changing more diapers these days, especially in public restrooms.” He said he wants to end the stigma of breastfeeding in public.
“We need to break down that stigma,” Richards said. “It’s a good thing, a great thing for the development of our children.”
Advocates also rallied in support of the Family Accommodations in Entertainment Act, a bill proposed by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas.
The legislation would make venues like movie theaters, stadiums and concert halls more accessible to families with small children by requiring high chairs and booster seats, changing tables in restrooms, stroller parking and a private, hygienic space for mothers to breastfeed or pump.
Although Simotas did not attend the rally last week, she sent a statement that expressed support for World Breastfeeding Week and the bill.
“As a mom who experienced this joy with my own daughter, I know firsthand how critical this nurturing bond is,” Simotas said. “There is much more to do as a society to promote breastfeeding and make this choice possible.”