As New Jersey seeks to improve the rate of babies who are breastfed at six months and 12 months after birth, a new survey reveals a potential reason why mothers may be struggling to keep up with the demanding task.

According to the survey released Tuesday by Byram Healthcare, 82 percent of expectant mothers in the U.S. are unaware of their breastfeeding rights under the Affordable Care Act — rights signed into law eight years ago.

Specifically, 42 percent do not know that breast pumps are covered through insurance at no cost. Sixty-four percent are unaware that lactation consultant sessions are covered at no cost, and 61 percent don't know that employers must provide breaks for mothers to pump milk.

In January, then-Gov. Chris Christie signed a law blocking New Jersey employers from firing or discriminating against a woman over breastfeeding. In addition to break time, employers must also provide a suitable location for breastfeeding women to express milk — not just a bathroom stall.

"We're encouraging moms to breastfeed, we're doing all this education about why it's good, but then we're missing the boat about how to help them do it," said Shari Criso, a board-certified lactation consultant based in Sparta. "These benefits really would help to have the moms breastfeed long-term."

Criso said new mothers unaware of their benefits could spend more than $300 for a breast pump. The tool, she said, isn't needed just for when a mother goes back to work — it can help a mother deliver breast milk to her baby who's failing to latch early on, or is away from its mother for medical reasons.

In a 2016 report card from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracked progress as it relates to nationwide targets for the year 2020, New Jersey had already surpassed the goal that at least 81.9 percent of babies are "ever breastfed."

But the Garden State was short of the 2020 target for the percentage of babies who are breastfed several months following birth. According to the 2016 report, 52.6 percent and 30.2 percent of New Jersey babies are breastfed at six months and 12 months respectively. The six-month target for 2020 is 60.6 percent; the one-year target is 34.1 percent.

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