Monday, April 5, 2010

Is it realistic to expect 90 percent of US women to breastfeed?

I'm over at Child Caring, where readers are reacting to this week's news about the benefits of breastfeeding. Here's an excerpt:

The importance of breastfeeding is underscored in the recent Health Care Reform law, which requires employers to provide "reasonable" unpaid breaks for breastfeeding mothers to pump. And a study published today in the journal Pediatrics make clear the benefits of breastfeeding: If 90 percent of new moms in the United States breastfed their babies exclusively for the first six months, researchers estimate that as many as 900 more infants would survive each year, and the country would save about $13 billion in health care costs annually.

Which is wonderful, but without paid maternity leave, consistent workplace accommodations, or a way to implement the new law, how are 90 percent of new moms supposed to pull that off? ... [More]

Dr. Larry Gray, a University of Chicago pediatrician, called the analysis compelling and told the Associated Press that he thinks it's reasonable to strive for 90 percent compliance. For some women, though, breastfeeding is a lot easier said than done. And as any mom who has lugged a breast pump with her to the office for any length of time knows, returning to work can make it even harder to continue to nurse. It requires much more than simply a committment from the mother; it requires understanding from coworkers, support from her company, and, in some states, reinforcement from the law -- all things that many women don't have at their disposal.

Just 24 states, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., have laws relating to breastfeeding in the workplace. (Massachusetts is not one of them.) In Allen v. totes/Isotoner Corp., Ohio's supreme court ruled that it was legal for Isotoner to fire LaNisa Allen, the mother of a nursing 5-month-old, taking unauthorized breaks to pump -- and for "choosing to breastfeed" (Leah at Working (on) Motherhood had a great take on the case at the time).

Gina Ciagne, a certified lactation counselor and director of Breastfeeding and Consumer Relations at Lansinoh Laboratories who blogs at By Moms For Moms, left her job at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. because she was so upset by the lack of support they had for nursing moms. "They supported breastfeeding around the world in their development projects, but not their employees in D.C.," she says.

Support for employees who are breastfeeding or pumping is as important as providing gym memberships, health awareness programs, and supporting other healthy lifestyle choices, she says. "If she thinks that her employer doesn't care... then what allegiance does [a new mom] have to her company?" Ciagne asks.

"Inclusion of the workplace accommodation language in the Health Care reform bill is huge, but it has to be implemented," she adds.

Here's what I think: If it's in the country's best interests to have new moms nurse their infants exclusively for at least six months -- and the billions of dollars in health care savings per year indicates that it may be -- then new moms should get at least six months of paid leave in which they can do so. According to an article in BusinessWeek, the end of a typically short (six to 12-week) maternity leave in the US often signals the end of nursing as well. (The United States and Australia are the only two industrialized countries in the world that don't make paid maternity leave mandatory -- click here to read my take on that stat.)

For many moms -- myself included -- dropping out of the workforce once you have a baby simply is not an option. So what do you think would help US women reach that six-month recommended goal?

1 comment:

Márcia said...

Women in Brazil just got a maternity leaving of 6 months. Talking about maternity leave, what can we say about Sweden? One year! I think the US can learn a lot from others countries policy.