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Breastfeeding Goes Public

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"The purpose of the legislation is to change the public perception that there's something indecent or wrong with breastfeeding, and the exact attitude of the people who oppose [Maryland's] bill are what you're trying to change," says La Leche's Baldwin.

New York has what is considered the model state statute on public breastfeeding. It guarantees a woman the right to breastfeed even if her nipple is exposed. Hawaii also has a tough pro breastfeeding rights statute. Minnesota and Tennessee have passed requirements so that women will have "lactation stations" that allow them a time and a place to express breast milk on the job.

But the mother of all breastfeeding bills is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). It would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect nursing in public as a constitutional guarantee. It also would set standards for breast pumps and offer tax incentives to companies that encourage breastfeeding. Maloney already got a similar protection enacted for federal workers, but she believes it ought to be extended nationwide.

"We only have a problem with breasts if there's a baby on board," says Hollinger.

Breastfeeding proponents point out that the practice is backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. By conferring the mother's immunity to the baby, it's thought that breastfeeding cuts down on a variety of diseases from type 1 diabetes to asthma or even leukemia. There's also an economic benefit in that Baldwin says using mother's milk could reduce the need for hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of formula.

"The idea here is to support and encourage more mothers to make this choice, not to protect society from possibly seeing a little bit of inadvertent exposure of the breast," says Baldwin. "Are we trying to get women off the beaches [for] wearing string bikinis?"

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