Merkley, Maloney Announce Legislation to Protect and Expand Working Moms’ Right to Breastfeed


WASHINGTON, DC – This week, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and House Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2011. The legislation helps ensure that more working mothers can continue to breastfeed their babies after they return to work, providing health benefits to their children. The Breastfeeding Promotion Act reflects elements of a 2007 Oregon law passed under Merkley’s leadership to ensure workers have private areas and breaks to pump during the workday.

Senator Merkley and Rep. Maloney previously fought successfully to include protections and benefits for many breastfeeding mothers in the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to their efforts, millions of mothers have the option of using unpaid break time to express milk in a private space.   Today’s legislation expands upon those efforts to include salaried workers, and also protects women from discrimination for exercising their rights under the law.

“Making it easier for moms to breastfeed means healthier babies, lower health care costs and happier workers,” Sen. Merkley said.  “As the husband of a working mother and nurse, I have seen firsthand the importance and the health benefits that come when working women have the tools and the rights they need to continue breastfeeding after returning to work. I championed Oregon’s breastfeeding bill, and I’ve been thrilled to partner with Representative Maloney and many others in this national movement who recognize the common sense notion that moms should have the option to breastfeed their babies. The provisions in the Affordable Care Act were an exciting first step, and this bill brings us further along the path to ensuring that all moms have the rights and the tools they need to breastfeed. ” 

“Public opinion and awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding continue to grow, and the momentum we’ve recently gained presents the perfect opportunity to build on that progress in achieving our goals,” said Maloney. “The health and economic benefits of breastfeeding cannot be ignored, and the reintroduced Breastfeeding Promotion Act would further encourage and promote breastfeeding by ensuring working moms who choose to breastfeed have the support they need to do so.” 

Studies have repeatedly shown that breast milk is best for infants, particularly for the first six months.  Children who are breastfed are less likely to be susceptible to a host of illnesses including asthma, diabetes, obesity and certain cancer.  Moreover, the reduced rate of illness means health care savings for our nation.  A recent study found that if half of the babies in the U.S. were exclusively breastfed for six months, we would realize potential savings of up to $14 billion a year in health care costs for the three leading childhood illnesses alone.  

The Breastfeeding Promotion Act would help moms and babies by:

  • Protecting Breastfeeding Under Civil Rights Law.  This will ensure that women cannot be fired or discriminated against in the workplace for expressing milk or breastfeeding during lunch or breaks. 
  • Expanding the Breastfeeding Provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act to Cover Salaried Office Workers:  Thanks to Merkley and Maloney’s efforts, the Affordable Care Act amended Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide mothers who are classified as non-exempt employees with reasonable break times to express milk in a private, non-bathroom environment while at work.  The Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2011 would expand this provision to cover salaried employees who work in traditional office environments.  The expansion would cover an additional approximate 13.5 million executive, administrative, and professional women in the workplace. 

The Breastfeeding Promotion Act is co-sponsored in the Senate by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Mark Begich (D-AK).

“My very first event as a candidate for U.S. Senate was at a luncheon celebrating the success of Oregon’s breastfeeding promotion law.  I said that day that I would work to expand Oregon’s efforts nationwide,” said Merkley.  “I am proud to keep my word. What’s good for Oregon’s moms and babies is also good for families across this country.”