Virginia is one of only four states that does not protect breastfeeding children and their mothers in places of public accommodation.
A breastfeeding child and his/her mother may be asked to leave, cover up, and be otherwise harassed and humiliated in places of public accommodation in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of 12 months, and babies usually eat every few hours. This means most breastfeeding children will need to eat while their mothers are out conducting the business of their lives. It is not fair for these children and their mothers to be subject to harassment and discrimination simply for meeting a baby’s most basic need in the healthiest way possible. Fear of breastfeeding in public is cited by many mothers as a reason for premature weaning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 76 percent of mothers start breastfeeding immediately after birth, but only about 16 percent of those moms are breastfeeding exclusively six months later. The reasons why mothers stop early range from discrimination, lack of education, resources, support and accommodations at work and in public.
Breastfeeding is a public good and health imperative. There is virtually universal agreement among health care experts that breastfeeding is the optimal source of nutrition for feeding all infants, sick as well as healthy, preterm as well as full term into their toddler years. Breast milk contains antibodies that protect children from bacteria and viruses. Breastfed children have fewer ear, respiratory and urinary tract infections and have diarrhea less often. Children who are exclusively breastfed tend to need fewer health care visits, prescriptions and hospitalizations resulting in a lower total medical care cost compared to never-breastfed babies.
Breastfeeding lowers a child’s risk of developing a wide range of diseases including obesity and diabetes later in life. Breastfeeding also provides long-term preventative effects for the mother, including an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight and a reduced risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and osteoporosis. In addition, continuing research is providing amble evidence that breast milk is also beneficiary to reducing tumors and killing cancer cells.
In addition to the myriad health benefits provided to mother and infant, breastfeeding provides significant economic and environmental benefits for families, employers, and society by reducing health care expenses, eliminating the need to purchase expensive formula, and reducing absenteeism from work to care for sick infants. Excess health care costs totaling more than $4 billion must be paid by the U.S. health care system each year to treat otitis media (ear infections), gastroenteritis, and necrotizing enter colitis–childhood diseases and conditions preventable or reduced by breastfeeding. When prevention of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic conditions is factored in, the potential economic benefits of breastfeeding are significantly greater.
Currently almost all states, forty-six, have laws affirming a child’s right to breastfeed in both public and privately owned locations. Currently the Commonwealth has enacted a law to protect women who breastfeed on any land or property owned by the state, a law to exempt breastfeeding from public indecency, a law related to breastfeeding in the workplace, and a law exempting breastfeeding mothers from jury duty or to allow jury service to be postponed. However, the Commonwealth of Virginia has neglected to enact a law to protect women breastfeeding in any other location and to enact an enforcement provision (a law without enforcement protects no one). Recent events here in Virginia and across the nation have highlighted the discrimination against breastfeeding women. I am asking for your help in making Virginia a safe and welcoming place for breastfeeding families. Do we really want to be the last state to protect and support breastfeeding families?