In backing breast-feeding bill, Merkley points to health costs

WASHINGTON — Moms in Oregon have the right to breast-feed at work. Now, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., wants to spread that law nationwide.

“Why would we not do everything possible to enable our mothers and our babies to benefit from this tremendous, God-blessed nutrient,” Merkley said. “Everything we can do to improve breast-feeding opportunities is right for our mothers, it’s right for our families, it’s right for our babies and it certainly would have a dramatic impact on health care costs” by keeping babies healthy.

As the debate about improving the U.S. health care system approaches a low boil on Capitol Hill, Merkley said encouraging breast-feeding is one of the simple, common-sense steps Congress can take to help families be healthier.

Merkley signed on as the first Senate sponsor of a bill first introduced by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., to guarantee mothers a private place to breast-feed, protections against discrimination and regular feeding breaks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants breast-feed exclusively for six months and continue for a year, according to the Academy’s Web site.

Breast-feeding has been linked to lower rates of disease among infants and some health benefits for mothers, according to the academy.

The bill is largely similar to onee that became law in Oregon in 2007, when Merkley was speaker of the Oregon House. That bill requires businesses with more than 25 employees to provide a private location — not a restroom — for women to breast-feed children younger than 18 months.

The location, though, doesn’t have to be a dedicated breast-feeding room, according to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. It can be an office or meeting room that’s not in use.

At a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, Merkley said businesses can also benefit from letting mothers nurse. He cited Jim Rochs, general manager of the Bend Carino’s restaurant, as one of a handful of managers who saw morale improve under the Oregon breast-feeding law.

“This law creates a better situation for the team overall, enabling them in their business to take care of each other and the time and space his employees need to express breast milk was easy to provide,” Merkley said of Rochs’ experience.

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