Bill would push breastfeeding in Illinois hospitals

May 1, 2012

A bill heading toward a final vote in Springfield would make Illinois one of the first states to require hospitals to adopt an infant feeding policy that promotes breast milk.

Under the measure, which passed a state Senate committee Tuesday, any hospital in Illinois that provides birthing services would develop its policy with guidance from the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a pro-breastfeeding effort of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, better known as UNICEF. Hospitals would post the policy “in a conspicuous place” and “routinely communicate” it to all obstetric and neonatal staffers, beginning with their orientation, according to the bill.

The legislation, HB4968, would allow hospitals to help mothers use formula if medically necessary or if the women preferred it. But the bill’s author, Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, predicts her measure would have an impact on mothers who had never envisioned breastfeeding.

“Once the nurses talk to them and explain the benefits to the children — how it prevents obesity, many acute chronic diseases, [sudden infant death syndrome], asthma and allergies — mothers may be much more likely to breastfeed than they were before,” said Gabel, who modeled the legislation on a California law that will take effect in 2014.

The Illinois Hospital Association helped craft the bill and supports its passage, according to Nichole Magalis, the group’s senior director of government relations.

The House approved the measure in a 107-0 vote March 21. Sponsored in the Senate by Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, the bill passed the Senate Public Health Committee in a 9-0 vote Tuesday. The timing of a Senate floor vote is unclear.

Gov. Pat Quinn has not taken a position on the bill, according to a spokeswoman. It would take effect January 1, 2013.