Opinion Columns & Blogs

Moms can breastfeed wherever, whenever — and Kansas House vote reinforces that

Kudos to Kansas lawmakers for adopting a rule that allows representatives to breastfeed their babies on the House floor.

You might think such a rule is unnecessary. Rep. Susan Humpries, a Wichita Republican, noted that female lawmakers have nursed babies on the floor in the past, and it hasn’t been an issue.

Besides that, a state law passed in 2006 protects a mother’s right to breastfeed “in any place she has a right to be.” The law says it’s Kansas public policy that “a mother’s choice to breastfeed should be supported and encouraged to the greatest extent possible.”

So why spell out explicitly that breastfeeding is permitted in the Statehouse? Why one more nudge?

Because the general public could use one.

Like speed limit signs on the Kansas Turnpike, regular and specific reminders keep people aware of the law. And this law, which enables women to nurse their babies wherever they happen to be, benefits moms, children, families and our state.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women exclusively breastfeed their infants for at least six months, with breastfeeding continuing through at least the first year. Breast-fed babies have less risk of childhood obesity, diabetes, respiratory and ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome. Breastfeeding also helps the health of the mother, lowering the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

The good news is that Kansans seem to be getting the message. According to the 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kansas’ overall breastfeeding rate — 83.6 percent — is above the national average. More than 58 percent of Kansas mothers are still breastfeeding at six months, and more than 36 percent continue until at least their baby’s first birthday.

But women continue to face issues that can discourage breastfeeding, including the unreasonable belief that “modesty” requires us to nurse our babies in cars, in restrooms or in darkened corners, or veiled beneath bulky cover-up blankets.

I recall talking with a Kansas mother nearly 15 years ago who breastfed her daughter on a couch in a Lawrence health club. When she got up to leave, a male employee stopped her.

“He said, ‘I don’t mean to be a whiner, but if I’m going to be here, I don’t want you breast-feeding,’” Amy Swan told me. “Then he said, ‘Those are your parts, and I don’t want my son exposed to that.’”

She left in tears. Then she got angry. And that indignation led to the current law that gives Kansas women the right to breastfeed in public. (Incidentally, the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition offers wallet-sized copies of the law — a sort of license to breastfeed in public — that women can carry in their purse or diaper bag.)

The Kansas House vote to allow breastfeeding on the floor was quick and straightforward. But its message — that our state should support and encourage mothers — is worthwhile.

Suzanne Perez Tobias is a columnist and member of The Eagle’s editorial board. During her nearly 30 years at the newspaper, she has covered breaking news, education, local government and other topics. An avid reader, Suzanne also oversees The Eagle’s books coverage and coordinates the annual #ReadICT Challenge. She can be reached at 316-268-6567.