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Work or Breastfeed? Don’t Force US Women to Choose

Proposed Cuts to Affordable Care Act Will Make Breast Pumps Unaffordable

I am a working, breastfeeding mother. With a full day of meetings and no time to go back to the office, I was thrilled to discover that visitors can use the United States Senate’s lactation suite. Nursing mothers are advised to look at pictures of their infants while pumping to help stimulate milk production, and an entire wall of the Senate lactation room was covered with photos of staffers’ babies. A woman’s body responds to a pump differently than to a baby, and for a mom trying to pump during the day so her baby has enough milk to drink the next, every ounce counts. I settled in between meetings with my bag, pump, and phone full of photos and videos, grateful that I could spend the day here talking about the human rights implications of the Trump administration’s early policies while still being able to feed my daughter.

A mother holds her baby while attending a rally to raise public awareness and support for breastfeeding by the steps of New York City Hall in Manhattan, August 8, 2014. © 2014 Reuters

I am fortunate to own a double electric breast pump – an expensive device that lets me express milk from both breasts simultaneously and therefore save time. My pump, which costs hundreds of dollars, was covered 100% by my insurance company, as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as part of women’s preventative care, considered an essential health benefit under the law.

Leading health bodies, including the World Health Organization, recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for six months, and then continue to nurse for two years. But the US does not guarantee paid family leave, which makes breastfeeding all but impossible for moms who need or choose to return to work. So breast pumps are all the more critical, yet an end to the ACA will make them unaffordable for many, unless Congress comes up with a real plan to promote healthy families in the absence of the ACA.

And it’s not just working moms who need this support. Any breastfeeding mom who wants to spend more than a couple of hours apart from her baby will need to pump, if she’s chosen not to use formula. A pump lets women return to work, attend school, care for elderly family members, or just have a few hours away from her baby.

As I left the lactation room, I walked into the middle of a protest in the Senate building. A handful of demonstrators were arrested while a peaceful crowd chanted, “What’s your plan for health care, what’s your plan for us?”

Mr. Trump and Congress: what is your plan for health care if you eviscerate the ACA? And how will breastfeeding moms feed their babies if they can’t afford to buy a pump? Mothers like me have both the right to work and the right to breastfeed. Don’t make us choose one over the other. 

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