A bill that mandates federal workspaces to provide a designated nonbathroom space for guests and visitors to pump breast milk passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 6.
The bill was introduced by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) on Jan. 30 and is the second breastfeeding-specific bill to ever pass the floor of either house of Congress as a standalone measure, according to the United States Breastfeeding Committee, a nonprofit that seeks to expand support for breastfeeding.
The Affordable Care Act, a 2010 law which overhauled the health care system and expanded medical coverage, already requires federal buildings to provide employees with lactation spaces.
Unsupportive work policies and a lack of parental leave are potential causes behind the 60 percent of reported mothers who did not breastfeed for as long as they intended to, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies warrant expanding access to lactation spaces in federal buildings to visitors, according to Norton.
“Given the significant health benefits of breastfeeding for both baby and mother already recognized in Federal policy, my bill is a logical step to ensure that visitors to Federal sites have access to clean, hygienic and private spaces to nurse or pump,” Norton said in a Feb. 2 news release.
The proposed legislation, titled The Fairness For Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019, would not require any additional spaces to be built, only that space be set aside for visitors as needed, Norton said in a Feb. 6 House session.
Providing spaces for visitors to breastfeed and pump milk will highlight the necessity of supporting women and families, according to Michelle Stulberger. Stulberger is the director of business operations for Metropolitan Breastfeeding, a D.C. provider of breastfeeding support and consultation.
“The health benefits of breastfeeding are well-documented, and by providing space for visitors to federal buildings to pump or breastfeed we as a society continue to affirm the importance of supporting breastfeeding families,” Stulberger wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The bill was previously passed by a House of Representatives composed of a Republican majority in 2017 before failing to pass the U.S. Senate. The bill has garnered support in the current house, which has a Democratic majority.
Norton’s law also requires lactation spaces to be accessible to individuals with disabilities under the Architectural Barriers Act, which requires federal spaces and buildings to be accessible to individuals with disabilities whenever possible.
The bill includes exceptions for buildings that do not already contain a lactation room for employees or any space that could be repurposed at a reasonable cost.
The high volume of visitors Washington, D.C., experiences annually makes it crucial that federally owned buildings have lactation spaces for nursing mothers, according to Norton.
“Considering that millions of people visit federal sites across the country, particularly here in the nation’s capital, it is essential that we ensure nursing mothers have access to designated, private and hygienic lactation spaces in our federally owned or leased buildings.” Norton said in a Feb. 6 news release.
The first bill introduced specifically on breastfeeding was the Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2003, which proposed an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include lactation as a protected civil right. The bill was later referred to the House of Representatives subcommittee on employer-employee relations.