Why does it matter that Sen. Dan Hughes gave away the mother's room -- even temporarily -- during the state Capitol renovation?
Of the 193 nation states (51 countries) in the United Nations, only a small handful do not provide paid maternity leave for new mothers: New Guinea, Suriname, a few South Pacific Island nations and the United States. Since the 1800s, a 14-week paid maternity leave has been standard around the world. Currently, more than 50 countries offer a new mother six (or more) months of paid leave, except for the United States.
Over 70% of Nebraska mothers with infants under 1 year of age are in the workforce. When Nebraska mothers return to work -- because they need to put food on the table or make a mortgage payment -- they are highly dependent upon a breast pump and a private space to pump.
Based on scientific research, public health and medical experts, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, overwhelmingly recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for six months to improve health outcomes and decrease health care costs. Currently, 32% of Nebraska mothers achieve this goal.
Mothers report that unsupportive work conditions and the lack of paid maternity leave are among the top barriers to breastfeeding their babies.
Infants who are not breastfed have higher rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), childhood leukemia, type I and type II diabetes, obesity, eczema, asthma and acute infections. Mothers who are supported to breastfeed in their workplace are more likely to return to work, report higher satisfaction with their employment, have increased loyalty to their employer and less turnover, and have less absenteeism.
If Nebraska wants to call itself a pro-life state, it must pay attention to a baby’s health status once a baby is born. Since abandoning the mother's room, a Capitol employee now has the option of climbing into a box (“the pod”) two or three times a day to pump milk for her baby. Nursing pods were designed for outdoor fairs, concerts, or sports events. A pod provides privacy and is suitable for a one-time visitor to the Capitol, but not for everyday use.
Unfortunately, removing the mothers' room makes it appear as though our governor and the members of our Legislature care little about Nebraska children. I don’t believe that is the case. However, outlawing female senators and employees is the only thing that will make this issue go away.
Everyone who has an interest in the health and welfare of young children is asking us to remove the barriers that keep a new parent from breastfeeding. This includes the mothers who work at the Capitol, whether they are research assistants, office cleaners, or elected legislators.
Move the employee who was placed in the mothers' room space. Rent him a room at the Cornhusker. But please give this room back to the babies.
Ann Seacrest of Lincoln is a co-founder of MilkWorks, a community breastfeeding center in Lincoln and Omaha. She served as their executive director from 2001 to 2019.