Breastfeeding rooms

Nursing Mother Rights are listed on the door of the pumping room at the U.S. Department of Labor. New Jersey legislators are working to expand maternal health protections beyond what federal law covers.

State lawmakers have advanced several bills centered on maternal and infant health they hope will lead to better outcomes for mothers and babies.

The legislation, approved by committees within the past two weeks, would strengthen employment protections for nursing mothers, encourage baby boxes and safe sleep education for infants and create regulations for breast milk donation.

The nursing law would expand certain civil-rights protections under the Law Against Discrimination to include breastfeeding and expressing milk. Employers would have to provide reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding employees, including break time and a private area other than a toilet stall.

“We must ensure that new mothers returning to work have the ability to breastfeed, and that no woman is harassed, fired or provided restrictive accommodations for expressing milk for their child,” state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said in a statement.

Breastfeeding women already are protected federally under the Fair Labor Standards Act, but employers with fewer than 50 employees do not have to comply if they show “such requirements would impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense.”

The state Senate Labor Committee approved the bill Monday and it now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Other legislators are focused on regulating human milk banks and increasing health benefits coverage for donated milk in two bills approved by Assembly committees last week.

The laws would provide licensure for human milk banks, or any organized service for the selection of donor human breast milk, the collection, processing, storage and marketing of donated breast milk, and the distribution of donated milk to a hospital for a specific use.

“The demand for donations and the service provided by human milk banks has grown substantially over the years,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen. “Human milk donations are also saving lives of babies in need of the nutrients breast milk provides.”

The bill would require a person, partnership, association, agency, organization or other similar type of entity be licensed by the state Department of Health in order to operate a human milk bank in the state.

A related bill would require health insurers to provide coverage for any expenses from getting donated breast milk if the covered person is an infant younger than 6 months, a physician prescribes the milk for that covered person and the milk is obtained from a licensed human milk bank.

Both bills go on to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.

On infant safety, lawmakers created a bill to require the state Department of Children and Families to prepare and make available on its website information about baby boxes and safe sleep education to expecting and new parents.

Legislators said about 93 percent of all infant fatalities associated with Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome in 2016 were directory related to sleep environments.

In efforts to address unsafe environments, the New Jersey Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board launched a baby box initiative in January to distribute the boxes and educate parents on safe sleeping practices.

The state Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizen Committee approved the bill Monday and it now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

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Contact: 609-272-7022 Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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