In the first draft of the GOP’s replacement bill, two key provisions for women who breast-feed have been left intact, enshrining protections for mothers who want to pump at work. The Affordable Care Act required larger companies to provide time and space for hourly workers to pump milk, and mandated coverage of preventive services like breast pumps and lactation support. One 2010 report estimated that the ACA provisions covered almost 19 million employed women of childbearing age.
“It’s a small part of the overall health care bill,” says Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, who helped lead the charge for those provisions. “But it’s absolutely ‘huge,’ as the President would say, to nursing mothers.” Some studies show that breast milk lowers a child’s risk for chronic conditions like asthma and Type 2 diabetes, and breast-feeding may lower a mother’s risk of certain cancers.
Breast-feeding rates have gone up in recent years, according to CDC data, but many mothers still face barriers. Since 2011, the Wage and Hour Division conducted 238 investigations related to nursing mothers’ provisions and found 161 violations, according to a Labor Department spokesperson. A 2015 study found that just 40% of women had access to both break time and private space.
But women still have the government on their side. “It sets the standard pretty high, so I have expectations now when I go places,” Christine Borges says of her experience with a workplace lactation program at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “I know I can ask for these things and I can cite federal law.”
This appears in the March 20, 2017 issue of TIME.