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Want to Breastfeed in Australia’s Parliament? Go Right Ahead.

Australian lawmakers will no longer have to worry about missing votes to breastfeed.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - JULY 07: The new senate votes on a new President of the Senate at Parliament on July 7, 2014 in Canberra, Australia. Twelve Senators will be sworn in today, with the repeal of the carbon tax expected to be first on the agenda. (Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Last year, a few months after Australian lawmaker Kelly O’Dwyer gave birth to her daughter Olivia, chief government whip Scott Buchholz offered her some advice: She should consider expressing her breastmilk to avoid missing duties at work.

O’Dwyer had returned to the legislature after only a short maternity leave, but was still breastfeeding. Apparently Buchholz thought that meant she was falling short on her responsibilities.

That’s because at the time, children were treated like other visitors to the House of Representatives. Breastfeeding lawmakers were allowed to vote in absentia via proxy if they had take care of their children instead of casting a ballot on the legislature’s floor.

That changed Tuesday when the same parliament that used to ban children voted to allow lawmakers — both men and women — to bring their kids into the chamber. Women will also be allowed to breastfeed during votes and debates.

“No member, male or female, will ever be prevented from participating fully in the operation of the parliament by reason of having the care of a baby,” House Leader Christopher Pyne said Tuesday.

There are 150 members of the Australian House of Representatives, 40 of whom are women. Three have had babies since March, in what Liberal lawmaker Andrew Southcott called a “baby boom” when he argued for the rule change this fall.

“As the numbers of breastfeeding members in the House have increased, the need for adequate provisions to support these women has become apparent,” he said in November.

Photo Credit: Stefan Postles/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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