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Lawmakers Seek to Expand Breastfeeding Options at Regional Airports

Making certain that airports in the New Jersey/New York area are ‘lactation-friendly’

nursing mother

Air travel with an infant is difficult as it is, but breastfeeding moms can face additional challenges when seeking to nurse their babies before a flight — challenges a group of New Jersey lawmakers are looking to reduce.

A quartet of Democratic Assemblywomen have proposed legislation that would require the New York-New Jersey region’s busiest airports to provide private places inside the secure area of each passenger terminal — separate from the restroom — for nursing mothers to breastfeed their infants or pump milk for later use.

The measure would apply to all airports run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates four commercial airports in the region — including Newark Liberty International — and one facility for private flights, in Teterboro.

nancy pinkin
Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, (D-Middlesex)

The bill (A-2504), sponsored by Assemblywomen Nancy Pinkin (D-Middlesex), Carol Murphy (D-Camden), and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), and cosponsored by Angela McKnight (D-Hudson), was first introduced in August and passed the Assembly with unanimous support in January, at the end of the prior legislative session. It was re-introduced a few weeks later, at the start of the new session, and is scheduled for review today in the Assembly Women and Children Committee.

Nursing suites and pods

But it’s not clear how much the legislation would alter the arrangements at some airports, including Newark, which the Port Authority said already has a half-dozen private nursing suites, with two in each of its three terminals. In fact, Newark and LaGuardia, in Queens, NY, were two of the first airports nationwide to be equipped with freestanding nursing pods, according to a May 2015 press release from the agency announcing its plans to install a trio of these lactation stations at each of the region’s three major airports. Additional spots have been added in the years since.

Plus, in order to become active, the proposal — which would impact airports in both New Jersey and New York — would require officials in the Empire State to approve legislation with an “identical effect,” unless such law already exists.

Experts agree that nursing increases a baby’s immunity, promotes healthy growth, and reduces the chance of obesity, among other benefits, while saving money and enhancing the bond between mother and infant. In recent years, nursing advocates have pushed public officials to expand options for breastfeeding moms; the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, requires employers to provide a private lactation space, separate from the bathroom.

New Jersey has also made strides to expand lactation options, with a growing number of hospital launching programs to encourage the practice and a new law, signed by former Gov. Chris Christie in January, that extends civil rights protections to nursing mothers. Christie also approved legislation to license and regulate breast milk “banks,” which allow women who are struggling to nurse themselves to obtain donor milk to nourish their babies.

Breastfeeding by the numbers

According to a federal Centers for Disease Control report, more than eight in 10 babies in New Jersey are breastfed at some point. Some 56 percent are still nursing at six months and more than 30 percent are breastfeeding at the end of the first year. The Garden State’s rates are slightly higher than the national average, and above those reported in both New York and Pennsylvania.

But changes have been slow to come in some areas — including airports, according to an academic study and the personal experience of many traveling moms. A frequently cited study of 100 American airports, conducted in 2014, found that while more than 60 claimed to be “breastfeeding friendly,” only 8 facilities actually provided the minimum requirements for a private lactation space. The survey included the nation’s busiest airports and none of the Port Authority sites met the study’s standards; Baltimore-Washington International, in Maryland, was the only airport in the northeast that made the select cut.

nursing pod
Credit: Port Authority of NY and NJ
A nursing pod

Four years later, the process remains a struggle in some airports, according to news reports and online forums for breastfeeding moms. There are a number of apps and other web-based services to help women locate a place to nurse on the fly, including a product by Mamava, a Vermont-based company that makes nursing pods for public spaces. Mamava — a name that means “mother on-the-go” in Spanish — makes the lactation suites at Newark. (The total number of sites now installed at other Port Authority sites was not immediately available.)

These concerns also caught the attention of the Garden State lawmakers, who believe there is still room for improvement at the region’s airports. “Traveling is stressful enough. For nursing mothers, finding a place where they can comfortably breastfeed their babies can make traveling that much more trying,” Pinkin said. “Ensuring our airports are prepared for traveling, nursing moms is essential to families.”

The legislation would cover any airport operated or maintained by the Port Authority, but prioritizes those that serve the most passengers. Facilities with more than 1 million “enplanements” annually would be required to provide a room or other private space in each terminal, unconnected to the bathroom and inside the passenger security area.

Making nursing mothers comfortable

At the very least, the room would need to be equipped with a chair and a nearby outlet, to allow women to plug in a breast-milk pump. If the Port Authority renovates a terminal, it would need to add a water line and sink to the space as well.

Airports that are less busy — with more than 10,000 passengers but fewer than 1 million — would only need to add private lactation rooms if they are building a new terminal, or renovating at least a quarter of the facility.

According to the Port Authority’s 2016 annual report, John F. Kennedy International Airport, also in Queens, which has eight terminals, hosted nearly 59 million passengers; Newark, with three terminals, flew more than 40 million; and LaGuardia, with four terminals, accommodated nearly 30 million travelers. The single-terminal sites, Stewart International, in Orange County, NY, hosted 275,000.

“The lack of a private space while traveling through an airport is a major obstacle for nursing moms,” Murphy said. “Not all mothers are comfortable nursing in such a public setting. They should have the option to nurse their babies in a more comfortable, reserved environment.”

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