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Nursing moms get attention at Capitol

Published May 11, 2007


WASHINGTON - On a day the Congress was consumed, again, by its running battle with President Bush over the bloody war in Iraq, dozens of young moms and their babies massed for their own battle.

Atop a sunny terrace popular for congressional news conferences, the mothers, wearing T-shirts with slogans like "I make milk. What's your super power?, " waited for their turn at the lectern, behind, of course, another press conference about Iraq.

Reps. Chris Shays and Earl Blumenauer were denouncing the violence against Iraqi interpreters and others who help U.S. troops in Iraq.

"His body was hung on a light post, " a former Army captain recalled about a translator he knew in Baghdad. The congressmen glowered by his side. "He had no family to get him down, so he just hung there."

In the meantime, the waiting moms swapped stories of breast-feeding slights: being offered a blanket on a flight after a passenger allegedly complained. Feeling uncomfortable for pumping breast milk at the office. Being asked to retreat to a bathroom at a Pottery Barn.

"I said, 'We don't eat in the bathroom, ' " said Emily Mohajeri Norris, 34, of Charlottesville, Va., her infant son, Theo, strapped to her chest.

The women's congressional champions arrived, their dark suits and conservative skirts looking stodgy against a tapestry of tank tops and khaki shorts - warm-weather mom-wear.

"C'mon up here, " Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., urged as she approached microphones with Shays, her Republican co-sponsor.

The crowd surged, about 120 moms and a couple of dads. A few mothers held baby to breast as Maloney faced the cameras.

She was here to announce she had filed, again, the Breastfeeding Promotion Act, which would forbid employers from discriminating against mothers who nurse and would give tax breaks to businesses that set aside rooms to nurse or to pump.

"People have been fired. People have been told to go out in the parking lot, " Maloney said. "People have been told, 'We don't do that here, it's wrong' - and that's not right."

Maloney, 59, nursed both her daughters, but quit when she returned to work. She first filed the bill nine years ago.

Now the House has its first female speaker, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and she's thought to be sympathetic. So Maloney and Shays are hopeful.

An aide urged them inside. The House was preparing to debate a measure to recall U.S. troops from Iraq within six months, followed by a vote on whether to give President Bush only enough money to fight the war until August.

Both were matters of immense national and international interest. But for a moment, at least, a tiny portion of Congress had focused on a matter of immense personal interest, much to delight of those in the crowd.

Maloney and Shays headed to the Capitol to wrangle over the war. For the mothers and babies, it was time for lunch - which they had brought with them - and maybe a nap.

Under the shade of a towering magnolia on the Capitol lawn, a mother discreetly lifted her shirt up for her three-month-old son.

In 1999, Congress passed a law expressly allowing breast-feeding on federal property, of which she and her friends were keenly aware.

For now, at least, they were on safe ground.

[Last modified May 11, 2007, 01:38:06]

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