Although fed is best, studies have shown that breastfeeding provides newborns with nutrients that are crucial to their growth and development. However, even with a large body of research, parents still face a number of challenges to nursing, whether that's exclusively or with formula supplementation. World Breastfeeding Week, which ends Tuesday, aims to break down those barriers, in part, by educating moms-to-be on important policies. After all, new research has shown that most parents don't know about their breastfeeding rights under the Affordable Care Act — and that's a big problem.
A new survey from Byram Healthcare, a medical supply company that sells breast pumps, found that less than 1 in 5 moms-to-be — or 18 percent — knew about the three key ACA components that were implemented to promote and support breastfeeding, according to ABC 7. Among other benefits, President Barack Obama's landmark health care reform, which made health care accessible to millions of adults and children, required insurance carriers to cover breast-pumping devices and lactation consultant services at no cost, as well as mandated employers to provide nursing parents a lactation room and a reasonable amount of time to pump. The latter provision of the ACA, known as "Break Time For Nursing Mothers," amended Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Certified nurse midwife Shari Criso, parenting educator and international board certified lactation consultant involved in Byram Healthcare's survey, told Romper in an email interview:
The breastfeeding benefits that were put in place as part of the Affordable Care Act target three key barriers that moms face when trying to breastfeed. This is especially true for women with lower income and working mothers.
Wakefield Research, who was commissioned by Byram to conduct the study, polled 1,000 expectant mothers in the United States, and discovered that more than 80 percent of participants didn't know about these provisions, according to ABC 7. Specifically, 42 percent of moms-to-be didn't know that insurers covered breast pumps at no cost, 61 percent didn't know the ACA required reasonable break time for nursing employees, and 64 percent didn't know lactation consultation is free under the health care law, according to the survey results.
Criso told Romper in an email:
We know that there are many known (and still unknown) short- and long-term health benefits of breastfeeding for both baby and mom. The longer and more exclusively the mother breastfeeds, the more they both benefit. These provisions aim for that and provide some support for mothers to continue breastfeeding as long as they are able to.
Breastfeeding as a new parent can be stressful. You worry if your baby will latch, if you're producing enough milk, or if you're even nursing in the right position. If you're working, you're worried whether or not your employer will be hostile to your need to pump milk, and if you don't have a quality breast pump, you fear you may not express enough milk.
That's why those three breastfeeding provisions of the Affordable Care Act are so crucial to parents who chose or are able to nurse. By addressing common challenges breastfeeding parents face, the ACA was able to provide crucial breastfeeding support After all, around 83 percent of parents breastfeed their newborns, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but that number drops to about 58 percent by 6 months old, and around 36 percent at age 1. Past CDC estimates show that when the Affordable Care Act in 2010, those rates were much lower.
Improving state and federal breastfeeding policy will help improve those numbers significantly, as well as protect nursing parents and their families. After all, President Donald Trump did try to tank the World Health Organization's breastfeeding resolution, allegedly in favor of corporate interests, as well as undermine nursing families by stripping social programs of funding and other benefits.
Safeguarding breastfeeding rights through legislation, then, will make nursing even more accessible and sustainable.
But those policy advancements will only have teeth if education about breastfeeding and breastfeeding rights is promoted. Without that knowledge, nursing parents can't reach out for the support they need to continue their breastfeeding journey, or to make it less difficult. That's why World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month, happening this month, are so needed.
As Criso told Romper in an email interview:
Just like we have mandatory discussions regarding prenatal testing, vitamins, and regular scheduled visits throughout the pregnancy to monitor and protect the mother and baby’s health, this is no different! A conversation about the breastfeeding benefits women are entitled to under the law is ultimately about good perinatal health care and the continued well-being of mothers and babies. Pregnancy is just the beginning, not the end.
The Affordable Care Act has made tremendous strides when it comes to helping families. And these three provisions are so vital to promoting and protecting the health of new parents and their children.