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Sahira Long's picture

In August 2012, US Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that insurance companies would be required to cover lactation services as part of a provision of the Affordable Care Act that breastfeeding advocates nationwide applauded.  While there are kinks still being worked out of the provision, the result would be countless women would have access to a breastfeeding specialist and more likely to reach their personal breastfeeding goals.

Breastfeeding duration rates in states across the nation would be brought closer to the Healthy People 2020 goals.  One of the kinks is that many state Medicaid plans and private insurance companies do not recognize breastfeeding specialists because they are not licensed.  Therefore, breastfeeding advocates across the country are working to find a solution.

While in Atlanta for the inaugural W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s First Food Forum: Growing a Movement So All Children Thrive, we first learned of a bill being proposed in Georgia, titled HB 363.  This first-of-a-kind forum brought together individuals from around the country who are all working to increase breastfeeding while addressing racial inequities in order to improve the lives of vulnerable children.  Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE) is a Georgia-based non-profit that seeks to enhance the overall mental and physical health of African American women, babies, and their families by working collaboratively to encourage, promote, support and protect breastfeeding throughout the United States.  ROSE aims to do just as its name implies with culturally-appropriate breastfeeding encouragement and support.

When we first heard about Georgia's HB 363, we thought it might help reduce some of the breastfeeding disparities seen in Georgia by providing easier access to a lactation specialist.  After reading the text of the bill, we are not so sure that will be the case.

Currently, there are approximately 900 certified lactation counselors (CLCs) and 300 International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) in the state of Georgia.  As with any profession, there are variations in the skill levels among both groups.  Thus, GA HB 363 seeks to license only IBCLCs who are approved by a board the bill will establish.  This board will be composed almost exclusively of IBCLCs.

The bill is problematic because if passed, the CLCs in Georgia—some of whom have more than 20 years experience—would be committing a criminal act—a misdemeanor—to even call themselves breastfeeding specialists.  CLCs would also not be allowed to practice their current profession except on a voluntary basis if they do not operate under another license or in a federally-funded program such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC).  The group of Georgia CLCs is more racially diverse than the group of IBCLCs.  The passage of this bill will inherently decrease access to lactation care and potentially increase disparities.  There has to be a solution that does not come with such exclusionary measures.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  ROSE cannot keep silent about the injustice that experienced CLCs in Georgia will face if HB 363 is passed with the offensive and divisive language it currently includes.  Please stand with us in raising your voice against this bill.

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