Moms: Do you know your breastfeeding rights?

Oregon Health Authority

The Oregon Health Authority commemorates World Breastfeeding Week to raise awareness of the state’s breastfeeding law. The celebration is held every year from August 1-7 in more than 120 countries.

OHA is a supporter and proponent of breastfeeding. The health benefits associated with breastfeeding are significant. Because of this, Oregon Revised Statute 109.001 protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed in public has been in place since 1999.

But WIC officials say they still receive numerous complaints each year from breastfeeding mothers who are asked to stop breastfeeding, cover up, or breastfeed behind closed doors in a bathroom or other private area.

"We want businesses around the state to remember that, as families visit their facilities, they can help breastfeeding mothers feel welcome and comfortable," says Sue Woodbury, MBA, RD, manager of WIC for the OHA Public Health Division. "They can help their employees and patrons understand that breastfeeding is not just a lifestyle choice, but an important — and legally protected — health practice."

WIC recommends businesses such as restaurants, pools, and clinics provide training to their staff so they know not to interfere with breastfeeding mothers. Knowing about the law will help employees deal with any complaints from other patrons about a breastfeeding mother. They can simply inform them that Oregon law allows mothers to breastfeed in a public place.

WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, is designed to improve health outcomes and influence lifetime nutrition and health behaviors. Nutrition education is the cornerstone of the WIC program, which serves all 36 Oregon counties through 30 county health departments, two tribal organizations, one migrant health center and one Head Start organization.

Medical experts agree that feeding an infant formula instead of breastfeeding increases a baby’s risk of infections, diarrhea, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), obesity, diabetes, asthma, and childhood leukemia. Mothers who formula feed have greater risk of breast and ovarian cancers. They also are 10 to 15 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease compared to mothers who breastfeed.

Nationally, more than $13 billion in health care costs could be saved each year by reducing barriers to breastfeeding, including harassment in public places.

WIC distributes wallet cards to new mothers to educate them about their right to breastfeed in public. The card has a 211 number for community support listings, and directs mothers to the Oregon WIC breastfeeding webpage for information and the state Bureau of Labor and Industries to report problems regarding breastfeeding employee law.

Did you know Lake Health District is launching a breastfeeding support group? The first meeting is Tuesday, August 7.