|HADLEY – MotherWoman, along with local advocates, is celebrating World Breastfeeding Week from Aug. 1 to 8. World Breastfeeding Week was founded in 1992 by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action. |
This year’s theme is Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers. Their objective is to call people together to ensure that breastfeeding mothers receive support from government and business policy. In the United States, the average age for weaning is between three to six months; globally however, the average age for weaning is three years. Researchers correlate breastfeeding with lower childhood illnesses rates, improvement in child development outcomes, and health benefits for mothers.
The United States had addressed these statistics by including breastfeeding policies into the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act protects employees’ rights to have breastfeeding break times to express breast milk in a private, non-bathroom location. This amendment however only covers wageworkers, leaving 11.5 million women without protection to pump at work.
The Affordable Care Act also requires that insurance companies cover breastfeeding support in the form of counseling, training, and products such as breast pumps. Because of gaps in our current system, Sen. Warren sponsored, the Supporting Working Mothers Act (SWMA) that, if passed, will expand similar protections to salaried employees such as teachers.
Under the act, mothers are entitled to a new health insurance benefit, receiving a breast pump to express breast milk. Dealing with insurance companies under these new laws to obtain breast pumps can still be extremely difficult and costly for women. To counteract this, companies like Vital Milk and Bellyful Birth work with mothers and their insurance companies to secure breast pumps that help meet mother’s breastfeeding goals.
Marissa Potter, owner of Bellyful Birth who works as a birth doula and certified childbirth educator, said, “Almost all of my birth doula clients have received a high grade double electric breast pump through their health insurance companies since the beginning of 2013. Whether you are returning to work full time or just want the flexibility of feeding your baby a bottle of pumped milk, having access to a breast pump is a significant benefit for new mothers."
Dawn Kennedy, owner of Vital Milk, a business which provides breastfeeding support services, said, “In accordance with the Affordable Care Act, mothers are entitled to breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling. Health plans can no longer charge a mother a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible for these services when a network provider delivers them. Unfortunately, some health plans only cover the cost of a manual breast pump and generally durable medical equipment providers do not give any personal guidance or follow-up for mothers.”
Kennedy helps women to navigate the system through her company Vital Milk. Vital Milk provides double electric breast pumps and their primary goal is to provide evidence-based lactation support to help mothers reach their own breastfeeding goals.
Because some insurance companies only cover manual breast pumps, many mothers, particularly working mothers, find it unmanageable to continue breastfeeding while at work. Insurance companies however will supply mothers with electric pumps if it is medically necessary, but working full time is not always covered under those guidelines.
Working mothers, such as Christie Sicard, a mother of two who lives in Chicopee and works as a preschool teacher, said, “If I did not have an electric breast pump, my daughter would be entirely formula fed after two months. It can take me up to 30 minutes to use an electronic pump. A manual pump would make it impossible given my scheduled break times.”
Liz Friedman, program director of MotherWoman said, “Breastfeeding is not only a women’s issue, but an economic social justice issue. There is a greater likelihood for middle class working women to breastfeed than women with low socioeconomic status. Is breastfeeding really a choice when women are stuck between selecting an insurance covered manual breast pump, a $300 electric breast pump, or WIC provided formula?”
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