Patience and persistence are required to successfully nurse a baby for her first six months as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, or better yet the two years or longer urged by the World Health Organization. The benefits to babies in health and mental development make such an effort worthwhile.
Landmark legislation extending civil rights to breastfeeding mothers also required some patience and persistence. Now it and two other bills supporting nursing moms have cleared the Legislature, and the governor should sign them before his term ends.
The addition to the state’s Law Against Discrimination would make it a civil rights violation to fire or otherwise discriminate against women who choose to breastfeed or express milk in the workplace.
Last year the original primary sponsors of the bill, Assembly Deputy Speaker Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, and Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland, managed to get it passed by their house but that’s all. On Dec. 18, the state Senate added its unanimous approval to that of the Assembly.
The legislation would also require employers to provide reasonable breaks each day and appropriate locations — something better than a bathroom stall — for nursing employees to pump milk in private.
There has been some opposition from the state’s business community, which is understandable given the excessive regulatory load it already must bear. But accommodating breastfeeding moms is reasonable and of substantial benefit to employees, their children and society. There are many other better areas for providing regulatory relief.
Another bill would reduce the cost a bit of breast pumps and related supplies by exempting them from the state sales tax. The state already exempts certain medical equipment, and the bill would make clear to the Division of Taxation that breastfeeding supplies are included.
The third bill prepares for a future in which New Jersey mothers and hospitals that need breast milk could choose to get it from a milk bank in the state. Currently there are none.
Under the bill, the state Department of Health would establish standards for breast milk banks, provide accreditation and occasionally inspect them.
The milk is used by hospitals to feed low-birth-weight babies and those born to moms with delayed lactation, and by mothers unable to nurse or produce enough milk for their babies.
New Jersey would become just the fifth state to regulate human milk banks. There are 26 nonprofit milk banks on the continent accredited by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.
Setting up the conditions for a milk bank in New Jersey is fine, but given the high cost of milk from such banks, health insurance coverage for donated breast milk would be helpful. A bill to require that hasn’t cleared the Legislature yet.
New Jersey is making welcome progress on breastfeeding. The efforts have contributed to a decade of improvement by N.J. moms and infants.
The most recent Breastfeeding Report Card from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 84 percent of Garden State mothers having breastfed, with 35 percent still breastfeeding when their children were a year old. On the 2007 Report Card, those figures were 70 percent and 19 percent.
Gov. Chris Christie should boost the trend by signing all three breastfeeding-related bills.