We've all heard it a hundred times: Breastfeeding is free. No need to buy formula and bottles if you just nurse, right? Well ... kinda. As anyone who's ever bought a breast pump, lugged it to work, and then carved out time to pump and read emails simultaneously knows, that's not exactly the whole story.
Unfortunately, nursing can cost you a lot: A new study shows that women who breastfeed for six months or longer "suffer more severe and more prolonged earnings losses than do mothers who breastfeed for shorter durations or not at all." Harrumph! Well, given that unfortunate news, breastfeeding doesn't sound like such a great investment after all. But is that the only way to look at this study?
Women who breastfeed for six months or longer lose income because they're more likely to quit or switch to part-time work. But would new moms be more likely to stick around full-time if, say, we had onsite daycare at our offices? One of the authors of the study, Phyllis Rippeyoung, thinks the study shows that new moms need a lot more support than we're currently getting.
Currently, breastfeeding promotion focuses almost exclusively on encouraging women to breastfeed -- without providing adequate economic and social supports to facilitate the practice -- a reality that helps reproduce gender, class, and racial inequality. Legislation more supportive of breastfeeding would include paid parental leave and onsite daycares. Unless these or other policies are put in place, formula-feeding will continue to be the only realistic option for many women in the United States.
Ptthhh, that'll be the day. Not in this political climate! When breastfed babies start pooping gold coins, maybe then we'll start valuing the work nursing mothers do. But until then, all of this is just a pipe dream. It's every breastfeeding mama for herself, never mind the medical savings down the road for breastfed babies, the reduction in sick days, and other benefits of breastfeeding.
Still, at least some businesses are ahead of the game and already provide onsite daycare. Over a quarter of the companies on CNN's "Best Companies to Work For" list provide that benefit for their employees. You still have to pay for that child care, but at least it's hosted at the office so you can pop in and nurse at feeding times.
It's a benefit a lot of moms would love to see at more companies. But it's not going to happen unless more of us start asking for it.
Did you work and breastfeed for six months or more? If not, what would have helped you?
Image via Raphael Goetter/Flickr