Women in NYC have had the legal right to breastfeed wherever they are for more than 20 years and now the city council is considering legislation that would create designated "safe" locations around the city for nursing mothers to breastfeed out of public view.
The bill, Intro 1063, discussed at a council hearing on Wednesday, refers to the locations as "lactation rooms" and stipulates that the city's department of health and mental hygiene ensure that social service, health centers, clinics and other city agencies that provide on-site services to the public make at least one lactation room available to the public. The DOHMH would also be required to promote the lactation rooms and make a full list of locations available on its website.
"Lactation stations are a public accommodation whose time has come," said City Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, one of the bill's primary sponsors. "The intent is not to hide breastfeeding away, but rather to support this healthy and challenging choice that benefits mothers, babies and public health."
The New York State Health Department says that breastfeeding has numerous health benefits including reducing the risk of allergies, obesity and other illnesses while strengthening the bond between mother and baby.
Dr. Susan Vierczhalek, Chair of The New York Statewide Breastfeeding Coalition, and also a pediatrician who directs the newborn nursery at Bellevue Hospital Center in NYC said the legislation is needed to help support and further promote breastfeeding as normal, natural and healthy.
Vierczhalek, who testified at the council hearing, said that while a majority of women start nursing in a hospital, about 75 percent in NYS, rates drop-off quickly and very few reach the recommended levels of breastfeeding, currently a year or longer.
She also noted that breastfeeding in public can elicit unwanted attention, such as awkward stares or even comments up to and including harassment.
“Breastfeeding is still not fully accepted in our culture yet perfectly normal in many others,” Vierczhalek said, adding that she believes that designated spaces will help to address this issue.
Recent instances of women being either interfered with or harassed while breastfeeding in public include a case last year when a woman was told by a Century 21 department store employee to go to a fitting room to continue nursing her baby. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman settled with the store and ordered it to pay $5,000 to support breastfeeding programs.
In 2014, a similar case was also settled with Barnes and Noble in Nanuet, NY when a woman who was breastfeeding was told to leave the store.
Planned Parenthood in NYC also expressed support for the proposed legislation.
“Access to lactation rooms, as well as greater education on breastfeeding resources, and compliance with breastfeeding laws, are important tools for families,” said spokesperson Christina Chang.
“We must support everyone’s decisions about breastfeeding and pumping, whether they prefer to do that in a lactation room or in the public. No one should have to face stigma because of their personal decisions about how to care for their child.”