fbpx Raising Awareness: U.S. Breastfeeding Committee Provides Support
A woman holds her baby against against a brown background.
A woman holds her baby against against a brown background.
Raising Awareness: U.S. Breastfeeding Committee Provides Support
Giddy talks with USBC representatives about removing roadblocks to breastfeeding.
Alisa Williams
Written by

Alisa Williams

Though both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding of infants until 6 months old, many babies are not breastfed exclusively for this time period, for a variety of reasons.

The U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) is an independent nonprofit organization that was formed in 1998 to collaborate with government representatives, nongovernmental organizations and health professional associations to enhance education, drive policy changes and implement workplace practices in the United States that provide breastfeeding support to all families.

In this exclusive Q&A with Giddy for National Breastfeeding Month, Camille Abbe, senior campaign and convening manager, and Cheryl Lebedevitch, senior policy and communications manager, discuss how USBC advocates for breastfeeding support, important bills currently being considered by Congress, the four pillars of infant nutrition security and more.

How does the USBC advocate for breastfeeding support in the United States?

Abbe and Lebedevitch: The U.S. Breastfeeding Committee is the country's largest coalition focused on lactation promotion, protection and support. We bring together organizations and partners, 111 and counting, representing local, state and national perspectives, to work toward our shared mission of creating a landscape of breastfeeding support for all families.

While 4 out of 5 new babies start out breastfeeding/chestfeeding/human milk feeding, these numbers drop drastically in the weeks and months following birth. The USBC works to advance laws and policies at the federal level to remove roadblocks and make it possible for families to feed their babies with fewer obstacles.

The USBC centers diversity, equity, justice and belonging in all of our efforts, and provides learning opportunities to our membership and the field on diversity, equity and inclusion [DEI] topics, particularly as they pertain to lactation and breastfeeding. The USBC invites organizations interested in forwarding this agenda to join us in our efforts. Together, we can do great things.

The USBC is supporting several bills currently before Congress. Can you highlight a few?

There are two important bills that are just one vote away from passing into law, the PUMP Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. These are winnable.

PUMP Act

The first is the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act [Senate Bill 1658/House of Representatives Bill 3110]. The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that does not guarantee paid family and medical leave. This means that most parents are returning to work soon after birth, and those who are breastfeeding will need to pump during the workday in order to ensure their baby has milk while they are separated from each other and, importantly, to maintain their milk supply.

Thankfully, 3 out of 4 women of childbearing age are already protected by the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law, which requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private non-bathroom space to pump. But nearly 9 million women of childbearing age are left out of the Break Time law and are forced to continue without the basic protections they need to combine breastfeeding and employment. We don't have full equality when hardworking teachers and nurses and software engineers can't count on federal law to support something as basic as feeding their babies.

That's where the PUMP Act comes in. The PUMP Act would close the coverage gap that currently leaves nearly 1 in 4 women of childbearing age unprotected. The requirements are really very simple and are specifically designed with flexibility in mind so that they can be easily implemented in every workspace.

We find it shocking that in many places, people are still granted breaks to smoke cigarettes but are not afforded the same time to pump milk to feed their babies. The bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support and was advanced in the Senate committee of jurisdiction with unanimous bipartisan support. The final step is a full Senate vote.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is in a similar position. This bill would help eliminate discrimination by ensuring reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, including lactation.

Too often, pregnant and postpartum workers are denied simple accommodations like having a stool to sit on or a simple uniform adjustment. The PWFA would change that and has already been passed with bipartisan support in the House and advanced by the Senate committee. We need Senate leadership to prioritize bringing this bill to the Senate floor.

DEMAND Act

Another bill we are working on is called the Delivering Essentials to Mothers Amid Natural Disasters (DEMAND) Act of 2022 [S. 3601/H.R. 6555], which would ensure that lactation support services and supplies are eligible expenses for emergency assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] Critical Needs Assistance program.

During a time when natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and wildfires are on the rise, a simple action like providing reimbursement for a breast pump or visit with a lactation support professional can make a big difference.

How can the average American help support these bills as they're considered by Congress?

One simple thing people can do is share their stories with us so that we can share them with policymakers and demonstrate why we need them to advance important legislation like the PUMP Act and the DEMAND Act. Stories help us make sure that we're focused on the most urgent issues and also ensure that we're able to demonstrate to decision-makers the real impact that policy gaps are having on families.

A second thing people can do is to connect with their legislators. Senators and representatives are elected to represent the will of their constituents. Take a moment to call and email your senators to let them know that you want them to support the PUMP Act, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the DEMAND Act. And soon.

What were some takeaways from the USBC's June 2022 conference, 'Pathfinders: Honoring Lactation Wisdom and Nurturing Innovation'?

There were many takeaways from the event. We had a day of sessions dedicated to the importance of fostering and cultivating partnerships with public health organizations to advance lactation equity.

A second learning arc focused on the importance of decolonizing our language, education and data, which is an ongoing journey for the USBC and the field in alignment with our DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] work.

Lastly, we had a day of robust discussion and acknowledgment about policy gaps in the U.S. which make breastfeeding a challenge for people from many backgrounds and in many circumstances. Overall, we reaffirmed the need for cultural humility and respect, and the importance of collective action to achieve impact.

Talk to us about the four pillars of infant nutrition security in the U.S. and why they're a necessity.

The catastrophic infant formula shortage demonstrates the dire need to build a robust infrastructure for infant nutrition security in the U.S. that holds all families in care.

This infrastructure includes four pillars: parents, programs, policies and a plan for emergencies. Here's what we mean by that:

Parents

Parents are critical stakeholders in infant nutrition security and ought to be centered in discussions on topics ranging from workplace supports to predatory marketing by formula makers.

The parents pillar should include people of all races, genders, caregiving roles, routes to parenthood, immigration status, religious or political views and infant feeding methods.

Programs

Federal programmatic funding needs to be expanded, particularly considering setbacks caused by the pandemic, including the current infant formula shortage.

The program pillar includes federal funding supports for quality improvement investments to implement maternity care best practices in hospitals; expanded funding for state and community efforts to advance care coordination; investments to enhance and deepen partnerships to integrate infant feeding and lactation support services into emergency response systems; and support for critical national monitoring and public reporting activities.

Policies

Critically needed policy solutions are waiting for congressional action, including:

Plan

All nations should have a robust plan for infant and young child feeding in emergencies that includes three phases:

  1. Emergency preparedness. Building a lactation support provider directory and a system to track the inventory of national resources such as infant formula.
  2. Emergency response for infants, young children and their families. This must include priority shelter, trauma-informed care, lactation support providers in every community, and access to breast pumps, milk storage, non-branded infant formula, clean water, bottles and cleaning supplies.
  3. Emergency resilience. This includes trauma-informed care that centers on the needs of communities that have been historically under-supported and disproportionately impacted in emergencies.

To learn more, the USBC-affiliated Infant & Young Child Feeding Constellation has published a Joint Statement on Infant & Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCF-E) in the U.S. context.

August is National Breastfeeding Month. What are some of the USBC's initiatives and goals for the month?

In 2011, the USBC officially declared that August is National Breastfeeding Month.

In recognition of National Breastfeeding Month, each August the USBC hosts a social media advocacy and outreach campaign inviting member organizations, breastfeeding coalitions, partner organizations and individuals to participate in online action and conversation about the policy and practice changes needed to build a landscape of support for babies and families.

We're thrilled that this year's theme, Together We Do Great Things, is celebrating the power and impact of our collective efforts. The USBC lifts up important resources and celebrates the activities and efforts of local and state coalitions and organizations as they commemorate the month, including four weekly observances:

The USBC created a toolkit for organizations to ask their governors or mayors to proclaim August as Breastfeeding Month and we look forward to seeing and sharing the proclamations. Join the celebration by taking action and joining the conversation on social media. You can also wear your commitment on your sleeve by purchasing an official NBM t-shirt.

Are there any final thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?

Human milk is the perfect food for babies and plays a critical role in building and supporting a new baby's immune system.

A recent CDC study found that breastfeeding initiation reduced the risk of post-perinatal (between seven and 364 days) infant deaths by 26 percent. It saves lives and healthcare dollars across the life span and is a powerful and smart investment in public health.

For babies, human milk feeding/nursing/breastfeeding/chestfeeding reduces the risk of:

  • Ear, skin, stomach and respiratory infections
  • Sudden unexplained infant death
  • Obesity
  • Type 1 and 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Childhood leukemia

For mothers and birthing people, human milk feeding/nursing/breastfeeding/chestfeeding reduces the risk of:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Breast cancer and ovarian cancer

Click here to learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding.

Get unlimited access to articles, videos, and Giddy community engagement.

2 free articles left. Get a free account now.

  • Unlimited articles covering sexual and mental health, relationships, culture and lifestyle, and more
  • Twice-weekly newsletters curated to your unique interests
  • Inclusive community of all races, identities and sexualities
  • Robust video content and interviews on dating, taboo sexual health topics, and life experiences
  • Absolutely no paywall