To the Editor:
As a fairly new Virginia resident, I like reading your summaries of county and state government actions that impact us all, including the General Assembly’s crossover bills featured in your February 19-25 issue. I’d like to share one more. HB1499 protects mothers who breastfeed their babies in public; Del. Dave Albo is one of the co-patrons. With its passage in both chambers and a promised signature from Governor Terry McAuliffe, the Commonwealth will become the #48 state in the U.S. to support breastfeeding mothers and their right to feed their babies wherever necessary – be it a restaurant, rec center or retail store or any other public or private space where nursing moms find themselves needing to feed their children.
The grassroots coalition, VA Alliance for Breastfeeding Laws with its leaders Rebecca Geller (a local attorney and mother) and Kate Noon, should be commended for this family-focused effort. Concerned moms and dads from all over the state contacted their legislators, visited Richmond, and testified in support of the bill during its various committee hearings.
When babies are hungry, they need to eat. As nursing mothers, we shouldn’t be scared into using a designated lounge, public bathroom, or, worse yet, be told to leave the premises. Nursing is about sustaining human life. It’s about growing a little human being into an adult. It’s about life.
Studies by medical experts prove breastfeeding is best for babies. There are numerous health and emotional benefits to the baby and the mother. (The World Health Organization spells these out: http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/exclusive_breastfeeding/en/) There are economic advantages as well, as families and the Commonwealth (when helping our families through WIC and other supports) do not have to spend money on formula. About 80.5-percent of new Virginia moms breastfeed their babies at birth (CDC, statistics by state, 2014 report). By 6 months, it’s only 53.7-percent who exclusively breastfeed or do a combination of breastmilk and formula to nourish their babies. By 1 year, it’s 27.4-percent. Yet, breastfeeding is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatricians at least until a baby turns 1-year old.
I am a mother as well as a volunteer who helps moms with breastfeeding. I can share that women experience many “boobytraps” in their breastfeeding journey that cause this statistical plunge. There are medical issues and societal issues. Not being able to breastfeed in public – or feel comfortable doing so – is one of those traps. When babies are infants, they are often eating every 2-3 hours. Not being protected to nurse in public, some women “shelter in place” in their homes. Yet, moms still need to work, shop, take care of our families and carry on with daily life. Being restricted on where we can “legally” nurse in public makes breastfeeding success and life in general a little more difficult. And we don’t need to make life more difficult for mothers; we need to support them for success! I’m so glad we’ll finally have a law on the books to do just that.