SPRINGFIELD - Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed Senate Bill 3211, establishing the Right to Breastfeed Act. The new law supports women who choose to breastfeed by allowing them to nurse in both public and private places without fear of being asked to leave.
“Breastfeeding is the best form of nourishment for young children. We need to do everything we can to help women feel less hesitant about breastfeeding,” said First Lady Patti Blagojevich, while visiting the Mobile Nursery on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. “This law is a major step in support of nursing mothers.”
The Mobile Nursery, located in Conservation World on the fairgrounds, provides a quiet place for families to stop and rest while enjoying the fair. Mothers are welcome to stop by and nurse, change diapers or just cool off with their infants during the fair. The mobile unit is on loan from the Macon County Health Department and staffed by volunteers from the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), St. John’s Hospital, Memorial Medical Center, SIU School of Medicine, and both local health departments. It is their fourth year at the fair.
The Right to Breastfeed Act, sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and Rep. Kevin Joyce (D-Worth), will provide additional support to the 68 percent of Illinois women who breastfeed their newborn infants and 30 percent who continue to breastfeed at six months.
“Illinois now joins 25 other states in declaring that mothers have the right to nurse their babies,” said Sen. Harmon. “This new law will protect and promote the rights of breastfeeding mothers and their children by allowing them to nurse anywhere, public or private, that they are authorized to be.”
The law, which is effective immediately, includes a provision giving nursing mothers the right to bring legal action against the owner or operator of a public facility who denies a woman the right to breastfeed.
Senate Bill 3211 was prompted by a La Grange mother’s experience at a fitness center. Last Fall, as she began to nurse her infant daughter, Kasey Madden was asked to leave the day care area of her Burr Ridge health club. After leaving the fitness center, Madden began a letter writing campaign that led to the legislation.
Breastfeeding is recognized as the optimal form of infant nutrition. Studies show that infants who aren’t breastfed will be more likely to develop asthma, allergies and obesity in childhood. They are also likely to suffer more colds, flu, ear infections and other respiratory illnesses.
This bill coincides with the release of the National Breastfeeding Awareness campaign. The TV and radio ad campaign makes mothers aware of the risks of not breastfeeding. Additionally, August was designated Illinois Breastfeeding Promotion Month through a Governor’s proclamation.
“Breastfeeding promotion and support is a priority for IDHS,” said Secretary Carol L. Adams, Ph.D. “The department’s Bureau of Nutrition Services has worked diligently for the past 12 years through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (also known as "WIC") to increase breastfeeding rates of women in Illinois.”
In 1992, only 26 percent of low-income mothers initiated breastfeeding at the hospital. By 2004, over 54 percent of Illinois low-income mothers initiated breastfeeding in the hospital.
WIC program activities to promote and support breastfeeding include:
· Breastfeeding classes for WIC participants during pregnancy and one-on-one counseling for nursing mothers;
· Administering a state breast pump distribution program through local health department and other agencies; and
· Promoting and supporting the activities of the State and Regional Breastfeeding Task Forces throughout the state, and supporting the activities of the Physicians' Breastfeeding Network of Illinois.
Women with questions about breastfeeding are encouraged to call their local health department and ask the WIC program staff for assistance.
Illinois is one of the leading states in enacting legislation to protect breastfeeding mothers. Prior legislation from 1995 excludes breastfeeding from being considered an act of public indecency and the Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act from 2001 requires employers to provide adequate space and time for mothers to breastfeed at work.