DC Exclusives - Original Reporting

Lawmaker Breastfeeds Baby On Floor Of Australian Parliament


An Australian lawmaker has become the first politician to breastfeed her 2-month-old on the floor of the Commonwealth Parliament.

Not even the U.S. Congress allows women to breastfeed on the House or Senate floors. Female lawmakers and Capitol Hill employees in Washington must go to designated lactation rooms that are dotted throughout the Capitol complex.

Rules in Australia loosened up last year so mothers like Greens Sen. Larissa Watters could feed their babies while performing their legislative responsibilities. Her daughter, Alia, is the first baby to be breastfed on the Parliament floor.

ABC reported the news, explaining that the whole thing came to a head in 2015, when then-Asst. Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer was asked to “express more milk” to avoid shirking her parliamentary duties.

In case you’re wondering, yes, of course she used a towel to cover her chest.

Breastfeeding rules in political Washington are still pretty stringent.

“Under current practice, federal agencies provide a designated, non-bathroom space for returning employees to pump breastmilk for their newborns, ensuring the new mother are able to continue this practice even after returning to work.” The law also states that the room is to be “shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.”

In June of last year, the House passed an amendment that would bring Capitol and House office buildings into compliance with the General Services Administration. It was part of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act.

“The Capitol of the United States should be accommodating to working women as well as thousands of nursing moms who visit the Capitol every year,” Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) said in a statement at the time. “This amendment will ensure that any nursing woman at the U.S. Capitol will have a safe and clean place to nurse or pump.”

The latest breastfeeding bill on the table comes from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia), who introduced H.R. 1174, the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2017. Her legislation would “require public buildings to provide designated private and hygienic lactation spaces for nursing mothers that are available to the public. This bill would only require nursing spaces if a building is open to the public and if lactation rooms are available for federal employees.”

As advised by the congresswoman’s office, I emailed Benjamin Fritsch, communications director for Holmes Norton, for more information about her bill and its status. But he never replied back. (What the hell?)

According to a 2014 Roll Call piece, the Capitol “boasts 10 lactation spaces.” In 2016, there were 12. The number necessary to meet GSA standards is 42.

“'[Nancy] Pelosi takes pride in the lactation rooms. Anytime she runs into someone that is pregnant she tells them about the lactation rooms,’ Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman, told the Capitol Hill pub in 2014. At the recent Christmas party for congressional reporters, Pelosi was overheard telling an expecting mother about the lactation lounges. ‘It’s something she’s really proud of,’ Hammill said.”

Betsy Rothstein
the authorBetsy Rothstein
Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, Betsy has been covering and torturing Washington media for the past three years. Early on she studied journalism in England, interviewing punk rockers in Piccadilly Square who stole her notebook and ripped it up. After graduating from Union College with a B.A. in Spanish, she began her journalism career in Cambridge, Mass., working for a Cuban newspaper where she conducted man-on-the-street interviews. She asked Latinos about their love lives. “Do Latinos make better lovers or what?” She soon moved out west to Denver, where she worked for two rival Hispanic weeklies for one year each. Next stop: J-school at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, where she earned a master’s degree. In the years following grad school she worked at the Boca Raton News as a business reporter followed by a brief stint as a press secretary for former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.). She spent the next decade on Capitol Hill covering hard news, features and gossip for The Hill Newspaper. In 2009 she quit and moved to Portland, Ore. and wrote about the many long-haired men there who distinctly resemble Jesus. They weren’t all kind (one was fat and confrontational) but she got her story. Prior to joining TheDC, Betsy was the editor of FishbowlDC, a Washington media gossip blog.

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