Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Pa. moms push to make breastfeeding in public a protected act

By Kim Lyons
Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Cheryl Bradshaw is ready -- for the snide comments, the disapproving looks, the general sense of discomfort. Even though Bradshaw, mother of three, hasn't had to defend her decision to breastfeed her kids in public, there's no law in Allegheny County that protects her and other breastfeeding moms.

"I think we have some great lactation consultants and a really active La Leche League, but Pittsburgh has a lot of old-school thinking when it comes to breastfeeding," said Bradshaw, 38.

At a rally in Harrisburg yesterday, breastfeeding mothers said Pennsylvania's unsupportive atmosphere limits their nursing. A bill sponsored by Sen. Connie Williams, a Montgomery County Democrat, would protect breastfeeding in public and ban companies from firing women who breastfeed or use a breast pump at work. It also would extend tax credits to companies with policies encouraging breastfeeding.

"I have been fortunate to have young working mothers working for me. They're terrific," Williams said. "They come back to work while they're still nursing their babies."

In the meantime, the Allegheny County Health Department is looking for this year's most breastfeeding-friendly places in Allegheny county for its 12th annual Breastfeeding Friendly Place Awards.

"The place where I'm most self-conscious, and people seem to have the biggest hangup is in restaurants," said Charissa Howe, 28, of Observatory Hill, who's nursing her 11-month-old daughter. "People seem to think it's unsanitary or something, and they'll whisper or stare at you."

Howe said breastfeeding in places like museums and parks posed the least problems.

Stephanie Strazisar works at Bayer, last year's workplace winner. She said she knew returning to work after the birth of her daughter wouldn't mean she'd have to stop nursing, since Bayer has six lactation rooms at its Robinson campus. The lactation rooms are quiet, private rooms with comfortable seating outlets for breast pumps.

Diana Kamyk, Bayer's manager of work life diversity, said part of the reason a lactation room was such a natural fit for Bayer is the similarity of its corporate culture to the progressive social practices of its home country of Germany.

"There have been times where it's been a little awkward, having to excuse myself from meetings," said Strazisar, 33, of Venetia. "But everyone is really supportive. It's been a win-win; I'm happy at work, and I'm just as productive a worker."

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be breastfed for at least the first year, but the early return to work presents problems -- mothers can't bring their babies to work for eight-plus hours.

Simply getting mothers to ask for a place at work to pump breast milk is a major accomplishment, said Dr. Brian Donnelly of Pediatric Alliance in McCandless.

"They need to ask for support and time and a clean, safe place to express milk," said Donnelly, who is on the Allegheny County Health Department's Breastfeeding Promotion Steering Committee. The milk can be refrigerated or frozen to feed the baby later.

The numbers show that most mothers give breastfeeding a try. According to a 2005 Centers for Disease Control survey, more than 70 percent of new moms breastfed at birth, and 39 percent still were nursing six months later. By 12 months, that number was down to 20 percent.

The survey found Pennsylvania's numbers were pretty close to the rest of the country: about 69 percent of new moms breastfed at birth. After six months, only 37.5 percent of Pennsylvania mothers still were nursing; and only 20 percent were nursing 12 months later.

At first, Shayne Blacksburg, 33, mother of 11-month-old Ari, said she felt self-conscious about nursing in public. But she's moved past that.

"I'm at the point now where I think, 'If you need to look, go ahead. You're not going to see much,'" Blacksburg said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Kim Lyons can be reached at klyons@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7922.

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