Washtenaw County to consider adopting breastfeeding-friendly policy
Washtenaw County Commissioners will be discussing adopting a new policy that would allow mothers to breastfeed their children in county-controlled properties, as well as at public county meetings, at their next regular meeting Wednesday.
Inspired by an ordinance the city of Ann Arbor adopted in 2006, the drafted resolution is the result of a push by Washtenaw County Public Health staff to grant breastfeeding mothers more protection.
The drafted resolution states county-controlled properties should post signs that state the space is breastfeeding-friendly.
The resolution does not include language to dictate if mothers should cover their chest while breastfeeding their child.
“Women usually do it discreetly,” said Gayathri Akella, Washtenaw County breastfeeding coordinator and coalition co-chairwoman. “I don’t think verbage should be included in the agenda about how a woman should cover herself.”
Fleece said more research would be required to see if the county has the authority to adopt additional breastfeeding regulations beyond county-controlled properties.
The public health department already has a policy that does not discourage women from breastfeeding in public, Akella said.
Fleece said the health benefits of breastfeeding have been proven.
“Anything the county can do from a leadership role to help breastfeeding is welcome from a public health perspective,” he said.
About 2,750 counties in the U.S. protect public breastfeeding, while 382 have no policy, according to the health department. Michigan is one of five states without an overriding policy.
Though there is legislation proposed at the state level, little progress has been made in moving it forward.
Public health staff spoke before the Board of Commissioners at a Sept. 20 working session, where several commissioners expressed their support for adopting such a resolution.
“I was very impressed at how the Board of Commissioners responded to our presentation,” Akella said. “The support that they offered was incredible.”
Commissioner Yousef Rabhi, who heads the working sessions, expressed interested at the September meeting to put forth a resolution.
“I was breast-fed, and look at how I turned out!” he said.
Commissioner Leah Gunn called adopting the policy a “no-brainer” at the working session.
“This is the kind of policy that we should pass, and every other jurisdiction in the county should also pass it,” Gunn said.
“I really do believe it is a health issue, and I think health to the baby more than anything else,” said Commissioner Wesley Prater. “At one time it was a real economic issue Now it’s not like that, but I think there are a lot of benefits associated with breastfeeding, at least at a very young age. My mom had eight of us, and that’s the way we all went.”
Akella, who is the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program coordinator for Washtenaw County Public Health, said local breastfeeding rates are increasing.
About 75 percent of new mothers in Washtenaw County initiate breastfeeding with their newborn infants, Akella said. By the time the child is six months old, the rate drops to 16.5 percent.
The goal is to have 81.9 percent of new mothers breastfeed their children, and by the time the child is six months old to have 25.5 percent of mothers continue breastfeeding, Akella said.
About 55 percent of the infants born in Michigan are born into the WIC program, and WIC mothers have the lowest breastfeeding rates in the nation, Akella said.
“One of the identified barriers (to breastfeeding) is to not be allowed to breast feed in public,” Akella said, explaining she hopes the proposed county policy would help breastfeeding mothers feel more comfortable and less afraid of being harassed in public.
Washtenaw County Public Health advises mothers to follow breastfeeding guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommend mothers breastfeed for at least 12 months, and those set by the World Health Organization, which recommends continued breastfeeding for two years and beyond.