Ignoring the needs of mothers and babies at a cost to society – and the economy

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As moms with infants, we know all too well how challenging life with a baby can be. The idea for this piece came during a midnight feeding. Part of it was drafted over the weekend while carrying a baby who refused to nap. Writing it served as a reminder to go pump breastmilk. It was put on hold when one of our babies got sick and we had to prioritize other work. And we’re the lucky ones. We have well-paying jobs, fully engaged spouses, and lots of help.

We have also both benefited from good maternity care and support with breastfeeding and pumping once we went back to work. We have the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to thank for those protections and worry for the fate of countless mothers as Republicans move forward to repeal the law.

Recently Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) questioned why men should have to pay for prenatal care. This isn’t surprising given that time and time and time again Republicans have threatened the protections in the law for pregnant women, mothers, and their babies.

Policymakers and constituents should be forewarned that rolling these protections back will have widespread consequences for taxpayers, the economy, and lawmakers like Shimkus.

The average cost of maternity and newborn care in the U.S. ranges from $30 to $50 thousand. Before the ACA, which insured millions of reproductive-age women and requires health plans to cover maternity care, this was a huge barrier for women to access care throughout pregnancy and the postnatal period.  For women with high-risk pregnancies, getting good prenatal care can save money that may have otherwise been spent on addressing complex medical issues later on. The law also requires health plans to cover depression screenings for pregnant women and new moms, which promotes long-term wellness for women and their children.

Additionally, there has been an alarming recent increase in maternal mortality. Stripping health insurance, Medicaid coverage, and Planned Parenthood funding, while leaving decisions about comprehensive maternity care benefits up to the states, would only make this trend worse, at a tragic cost to society.

Further, 30 percent of women don’t return to work at all within six months of having their first baby. There are a myriad of deeply personal – and financial – reasons for this, not least of which are the high cost of childcare and discrimination in the workplace. The Affordable Care Act has helped breastfeeding mothers return to work. America benefits from supporting mothers in the workplace, both from the valuable skills they have to offer and from the opportunity to close the gender pay gap. Together, this strengthens our economy.

While much more needs to be done, the Affordable Care Act has made breast pumps free and requires employers to allow an employee time and a private place that isn’t a bathroom to pump breastmilk, which is shown to help mother breastfeeds longer. This saves her the expense of formula and is good for the health of her and her baby. For employers, this helps them save money on costs related to employee turnover, health care, and sick days for both moms and dads for children’s illnesses.

Still, only certain employees, mainly hourly workers, are covered. On top of that, many employers aren’t compliant with the law. Only 40 percent of nursing moms get the break time and accommodations at work. Policymakers should enforce and expand these protections.

Women are mobilized in record numbers against the Trump administration. Republicans interested in appealing to this half of their constituency would be well-served to publically support policies that benefit women and their families. Keeping the access to care, maternity coverage, and breastfeeding support and protections that the ACA provides would be a step in the right direction.

Linda Forman Naval is the Senior Director of Public Policy and Strategic Initiatives for the Scholars Strategy Network. She began her career working for Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who championed the breastfeeding workplace protections in the Affordable Care Act. Dr. Carrie Henning-Smith is a Research Associate in the Division of Health Policy and Management at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, where her research focuses on disparities in health and access to care.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


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