Monday, April 29, 2013

Breastfeeding Advocacy in Texas

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about a nurse-in that took place at Ft. Worth Magaizne after an advice columnist called breastfeeding in public "ick".   One of the women following the nurse-in contacted me about some Texas bills on the table. Rather than me tell you about them, I asked if she would write us a post, keeping us all in the loop.

I mentioned in my post that I feel that nursing in public is harder now than it was when I was breastfeeding just a few years ago.  It is important that we all do what we can to promote the normalization of breastfeeding so new mothers don't have to fight to feed their babies in public.  

Thank you Krisdee Donmoyer for writing this post to help us understand the laws and our real rights.  

"I am a stay-at-home mom with three sons, ages 10 months to 7.5 years.  I've felt strongly about breastfeeding since before my first son was born, but when I was told to move to a private room 8 months ago while discreetly nursing my baby in the empty lobby of our school, advocacy became my calling.  I went through proper channels at my school district (Austin Independent School District) for two months, asking for a mother & baby-friendly breastfeeding policy, & when they put the opposite in writing, I went public, asking for letters to the district through the Facebook page & blog I started, Keep Austin Nursing in Public.  I'm now the Outreach Coordinator for Central Texas Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, as well, and I have been very involved in a grassroots effort to garner support for the breastfeeding bills in the House this session.

There are laws that aim to help mothers meet their breastfeeding goals, but existing laws leave room for improvement.  Currently there are two bills in the Texas House Calendars Committee which would strengthen breastfeeding legislation.  And Texans can help make this happen, in as much or as little time as they have to spend supporting them.  

Passed in 1995, Texas Health & Safety Code 165.002 states that a woman has the right to breastfeed her baby anywhere she is authorized to be.  Most women who breastfeed can do so in public without ever being harassed.  But it does happen, and that knowledge and the fear of it happening serves as a barrier to breastfeeding for many women.  In fact, 40% of women cite worrying about nursing in public as their greatest barrier to breastfeeding.   2012 Lansinoh Breastfeeding Study for more on this study.   House Bill 1706  would go a long way to abate the fear of nursing in public.

In its present form, the law can be circumvented by revoking a mother's authority to be in a place of public accommodation.  Moms may think that it's already illegal to infringe on their rights, but as terrific as it is, 165.002 simply states that we have a right.  HB 1706 closes that loophole, making it illegal to toss a mother out, or even to interfere with or restrict breastfeeding.

It also provides for education that the law exists, via the Comptroller's office.  If you're a breastfeeding advocate, it may be hard to imagine that not everyone knows there is a law about nursing in public, but many people have no idea.  So this aspect of HB 1706 is huge.

Still, knowing a law is on the books doesn't mean all people will follow it.  Moms who have faced discrimination since 1995 have told their harassers that they're protected by law, but that hasn't always stopped the discrimination.  In large part, that's because they're not truly protected.  HB 1706 will change that by giving our right-to-breastfeed law an enforcement provision - a consequence for flouting the law.  If a mother's right is violated, she will have the right to sue for damages not to exceed $500 plus reasonable attorney fees.  Realizing that they could have a lawsuit on their hands if they ignore the law, business owners are more likely not only to follow it, but to train their employees so that they will follow it as well.  Far from resulting in rampant lawsuits (which are likely to be cost prohibitive for families, and may not interest the majority of lawyers), the mere possibility of a lawsuit will decrease harassment incidents, paving the way for increased breastfeeding rates.

The other bill, HB 741, supports mothers in the work place.  Though about 80% of Texas mothers initiate breastfeeding, by six months, only 13.7% are still breastfeeding exclusively, despite the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization to breastfeed exclusively for the full first six months.  Breastfeeding rates begin to drop off around the time that mothers return to work, and are trying to balance the demands of their job with the need to express milk with a breast pump on the same supply and demand schedule as their baby.  The need for time and a place to pump led to the Fair Labor Standards Act requiring reasonable accommodations for hourly employees. However, salaried employees are exempt.  HB 741 extends those accommodations to salaried public employees, including teachers.  

Both of these bills are vital to changing the culture in our state to one that is more supportive of breastfeeding.  A more supportive culture will lead to improved breastfeeding rates, which will significantly improve the economy as well as public health.  So we are all stakeholders in this.

At the moment, the bills are in the Calendars Committee.  If they are set for a date on the House floor as soon as possible, there will be time for them to be voted on by the 150 House Representatives, and if they pass them, they'll go to the 31 Texas Senators for another vote.

It's easy to support the bills, to be a part of this historic legislation.  You can spend just five minutes sending a sample email you personalize a bit to legislators whose email addresses are all in one place for you at  It doesn't take long at all to call legislators, and a phone call also makes a great impact.

Have more than five minutes?  Want to do more?  There's plenty to be done. Contact and join the grassroots movement to support legislation that will support breastfeeding moms and babies."

This is Donna again.  Side note I wanted to add about contacting your legislators.  There is also things going on at the state level with our Texas birth centers.  I was recently asked to go to Austin to meet with my state rep about this bill.  There were about 25 of us that went to this initial meeting. Before heading to the capital building, it was made very clear -- if you have to breastfeed your baby during your meeting, LEAVE the room.  Do you think these breastfeeding and birth advocates and professionals liked hearing that?  Of course not.  I understood it though.  We do not want to be seen as hippy radicals who are in-your-face, not if we are to make real impact.  Make no mistake, I wore my cowboy boots to the capital building and my hair was extra big that day.  :-)

So, when you contact your state rep, whether by phone or email, be respectful and professional.  That will be heard -- and listened to -- more than the anger that we sometimes feel over this issue.  Good luck!  I do believe that we have the power to make positive change for this next generation of breastfeeding mothers.

1 comment:

Michelle C said...

How sad for mothers and babies in Texas. I am [almost] lucky to live in Canada where telling a nursing mother to leave the premises is considered sexual harassment and is handled by authorities seriously. I am even part of a society that meets the sight of bare breast + baby with smiles and/or respectfully averted eyes. I don't even have to cover my breast in public if I don't wish to because it it legal for women to be topless in any place it is legal for men to be topless. I hope that Texas can get with the times and realize that this kind of harassment is denying children the right to life-giving milk; It should be a crime to ask someone to leave because they're trying to feed the baby. The only thing I have left to bitch about in Canada is that the government hires too few midwives! So many midwife graduates are unemployed while mothers are given the illusion that there is a choice of birthcare.