New Public Breastfeeding Law Takes Effect March 1, 2009

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A new Rhode Island law that allows a woman to breastfeed or bottle-feed her child in any place open to the public will take effect on March 1, 2009.

This law complements a pre-existing law that exempted breastfeeding mothers from indecent exposure laws but did not provide them with the explicit right to breastfeed a child in any public place. The new law further permits a woman to allege a violation of her civil rights if she is prevented from breastfeeding in public.

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“Breastfeeding protects mothers and their babies from numerous health risks and results in significant cost savings for families, the healthcare system, and employers who support breastfeeding families,” said Director of Health David R. Gifford, MD, MPH. “At a time when the state budget and healthcare system are stretched beyond capacity, promoting breastfeeding is a smart and cost-effective healthcare strategy,” he said. “Breastfed children also have a lower risk for becoming overweight or obese in childhood and later in life,” he added.

A breastfeeding mother needs to feed her baby whenever the baby is hungry to satisfy her baby and build up and maintain her milk supply. Because young babies need to eat from 8 to 12 times every 24 hours, breastfeeding mothers often need to breastfeed when they are away from home. "Too often, mothers are asked to stop breastfeeding, to move to a private location, or to cover themselves up when they breastfeed at a playground, at the airport, in a restaurant, or in other public places," explains Dr. Laura Viehmann, a pediatrician in Pawtucket and Breastfeeding Coordinator for the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "This law ensures that a mother who breastfeeds her child in public has the same protection as a woman who bottle-feeds her child."

Dr. Viehmann chairs the Physicians' Committee for Breastfeeding in Rhode Island, a group of health care professionals that successfully advocated for the new law and a 2003 law that requires employers to make a reasonable effort to provide a breastfeeding mother with flexible breaks and a safe, clean, private place to pump breastmilk or breastfeed her child.

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