Tell Congress not to block breastfeeding

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Congress has passed laws so that women who are breastfeeding aren’t discriminated against at work and have break times to nurse. But under its own rules, a Congresswoman can’t bring her nursing baby with her on to the Senate or House floor so that she can vote.

A few years ago U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York had to hold her baby boy outside a door to the Senate floor and lean in to the room to vote. In spring 2018 U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois will give birth and, if she needs to breastfeed on the job, will have to find a bathroom or other place to nurse off the Senate floor.

Congress can and should fix this outdated barrier. Senate Standing Rule 23 and House Rule 4 list who can be admitted to the Senate and House floors while they are in session. Congress should amend these rules so that a nursing child can accompany a parent who is permitted onto the floor of Congress while it is in session.

Over the years Congress has taken steps to remove similar barriers to women participating fully and equally in Congress. Restrooms for female members of Congress were added in the 1960s and later expanded, congressional gyms became co-ed in the 1980s, and lactation areas were opened in the House and Senate office buildings in the 2000s.

A number of countries permit women legislators who are nursing to bring their babies into parliament, including Argentina, Australia, Iceland, and Spain, among others. The current rules in the U.S. give many people access to the floors of Congress including governors, foreign ministers, federal department heads, congressional staff, and any former member of Congress, but not the young child of a current member of Congress.

It’s time for Congress to accommodate breastfeeding. About 3 million Americans breastfeed their babies each year. A new mom in Congress could be one of them!

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