Tammy Duckworth: Why Do We Expect Moms to Pump Milk for Their Children on a Toilet Seat?
Like many working moms, I knew that balancing my career with taking care of a young daughter would be a challenge, but I never imagined that airports would present one of my biggest obstacles.
As a member of Congress when my daughter was born, I was traveling a lot for work. I flew back and forth between Illinois and Washington almost every week – and frequently, I would get to the airport with little time to spare.
As a nursing mother, I had to stick to a feeding and expressing schedule, including when I was at the airport, but I quickly realized that finding a clean, accessible, private space was stressful and inordinately difficult. While I was comfortable breastfeeding my daughter in public, I did not want to express next to strangers using the same outlets to recharge their electronic devices. At many airports, I was redirected to a bathroom, forced to pump in a bathroom stall.
We would never ask our fellow travelers to eat their sandwiches in a bathroom, but there I was, expressing milk for my child on a toilet seat. And studies show my experience was far too common among traveling moms.
In a recent survey of 100 airports across the country, 62 percent of the airports called themselves “breastfeeding-friendly” but only 8 percent had a facility that met the minimum requirements for a nursing room: a private, clean space – that isn’t a bathroom – with a chair, a table and an electrical outlet. Of those airports, several that do have lactation rooms placed them outside of security zones, which means new moms would have to nurse their child or express breast milk before they go through security – or use public restrooms in the airport terminal.
I do not doubt that some of these airports’ efforts have been sincere, but it is clear that there is still a misunderstanding of what must be done to accommodate traveling mothers. Unlike other public spaces, travelers have little control over the amount of time spent in airports. With little warning or advanced notice, flights frequently get delayed or even canceled. And no matter where they are or whether there is a private space is available, nursing mothers need to stick to a schedule.
Missing even one session can be harmful and cause discomfort, leaking, inflammation, infection, decreased milk supply, and ultimately, breastfeeding cessation.
That’s why I reintroduced the bipartisan Friendly Airports for Mothers (FAM) Act, which would ensure that all large- and medium-size airports have accessible, safe, clean and convenient lactation rooms for travelers—at no extra cost for taxpayers or airports.
It would simply give airports the ability to use existing improvement funds, which they currently use to fix runway landing lights and taxiways and to do general maintenance to improve the airport, to also construct private, clean, and accessible lactation spaces.
After all, the value of breastfeeding cannot be overstated: the health benefits can last a lifetime. Studies suggest that children who are breastfed are more resistant to diseases and infections early in life, as well as at lower risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. And over the longer term, breastfed babies may have reduced risk of obesity, type 1and 2 diabetes, asthma, and childhood leukemia. Women who breastfeed may also have a lower risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
The FAM Act was included in the larger Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act that passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in June – and it is my hope that we can come to an agreement to advance the FAA Reauthorization Act now that the Senate is in legislative session for the fall. If a mother chooses to breastfeed their child, she should not have to worry about whether she can find a clean, private place to nurse or express breast milk while she’s traveling; she has enough to worry about already.
By: Senator Tammy Duckworth
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