Breastfeeding Number One Issue

At a press event on the steps of the Capitol, surrounded by a group of mothers holding their babies, today Colorado gubernatorial candidates Republican Bob Beauprez and Democrat Bill Ritter both pledged if elected to make it their number one priority to establish programs fostering and supporting working women to breastfeed their babies.

“We don’t often agree, but we agree on this,” said Beauprez, as he kissed the head of a tow-headed little girl.

“I stand with my opponent on this one,” said Ritter, turning to kiss another baby dressed in a sailor suit. “Breastfeeding is important but there’s little recognition of how difficult it can be, especially for working women.”

Just kidding.There was no such press conference. I made it up. In fact, it’s not so easy to figure out where either Beauprez or Ritter stand on the issue of the importance of breastfeeding or on helping working moms continue to do it. There’s nothing on the issue sections of their campaign web pages about it. As a working mom myself who had trouble breastfeeding our son, Leo, I know first-hand how hard it can be to do. Yet the benefits of breast milk for babies are widely documented and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women do so for a year.

It’s not that the issue hasn’t been raised in Colorado. Earlier this year, the legislature considered a bill that would have required employers to provide two ten-minute breaks and a place where a mother could use a breast pump to express milk for her baby. In February, the Senate passed a weakened form of the bill but then quashed it the next day.

I decided to go straight to the source and ask the Beauprez and Ritter campaigns where the candidates stood on the issue. Would they support a bill similar to the one that the legislature introduced?

“In general terms, Beauprez is going to oppose mandates on employers,” said John Marshall, Beauprez’s spokesperson.

I asked if Beauprez would make breastfeeding a major issue if elected.

“I think he’s going to look in broader terms,” said Marshall. “He’s going to ask whether Coloradans have access to affordable health insurance.”

So nothing specific on breastfeeding, I asked?

The answer was “No.”

As for the Ritter campaign, spokesperson Evan Dreyer said he would look in to the issue. One day passed. Then two days passed. Three days. I had checked back in a couple of times.

Finally Dreyer got back to me.

“Bill is familiar with the abundant research showing the importance of breast feeding to the long-term health and development of infants,” wrote Dreyer in an email. “As governor he will provide leadership on a range of public health issues including the importance of pre-natal care, breast feeding and preventing childhood obesity.” But Ritter would not take a position on the bill.

The real story here is that it would be a rare candidate who made it a major issue in his or her campaign to help support working women to breastfeed. This despite the fact that there is a strong benefit to society in terms of healthier babies. This is also despite the fact that working women make up a large part of the work force and that trying to keep up breastfeeding can be a near impossible task. But that’s a post for another day.

[cross posted at]