Working Moms Don't Have a Fair Shot at Breastfeeding

Rant 25

The CDC is reporting that more moms are breastfeeding -- the stat increased by over four points from 2000 to 2008. Moms who at least tried to nurse in 2008 "increased among blacks to 58.9 percent and among whites to 75.2 percent". Hispanics stayed steady at 80 percent. That number seems encouraging, but by the time babies get to be 6-months-old, overall less than 45 percent of mothers are still breastfeeding.

I do believe the campaigns in recent years will help those numbers go up but the "longer term" breastfeeding rates are still going to show a significant number of mothers not breastfeeding much past those early weeks. And that's because of the major challenges most working mothers face when it comes to pumping. This isn't about mothers failing at breastfeeding. This is about our country failing mothers when it comes to maternity leave.

Not working just isn't an option for some women. Many need two salaries to get the bills paid. Every family situation is different so we can't say women should just stay at home with baby and this is solved. In caring about our future, the future of our country, we have to care about our kids. In caring about our kids, we have to care about families. Mothers. We have campaigns for better schools and more arts and healthier lunches and that's all wonderful and needed, but we need to move the time frame back a bit to when babies are in the womb and the newborn stage and work on our maternity leave. Canada gets 50 weeks paid maternity leave -- almost a full year. The UK gets 20 weeks. The majority of American women get zero.
The AAP recommends babies be exclusively breastfed until at least 6 months; WHO suggests to keep going (along with solids at 6 months) until 2 years. This too often just doesn't work for working mothers because breastfeeding isn't a solo sport. And we have to call it a sport because as any breastfeeding mom knows, our little ones can certainly do some gymnastic maneuvers at times when nursing. Plus we have the football hold -- that has to count for something, along with all the other positions. But when you have to be hooked up to a breast pump it is just you and the pump, essentially solo with the company of a device, the complete opposite of your sweet baby who can make your breasts leak milk just from hearing the tiniest coo. The output most often isn't the same when you have to pump. And considering our dismal maternity leave situation (8 weeks if we're lucky, maybe paid, maybe not), the rate of women nursing much past that will plummet simply because it just not do-able.
I have twins and was able to make it to 16 months with my son; 15 with my daughter. I went back to work after a generous (for America) 12-week maternity leave thanks to FMLA. I know some women who didn't get any maternity leave. And some don't have a comfortable place to pump once at work. I was given a clean and private room to pump in and thankfully had a team of co-workers and bosses who worked around my pumping schedule whenever possible. It was as close to an ideal breastfeeding working mom situation as they come. But my milk supply still suffered. I tried pumping more, pumping less, taking supplements to increase supply, but my output when pumping wasn't enough for twins. I kept it up, giving them every last drop I could until they weaned themselves. I think my daughter, who always ate faster, got frustrated there wasn't a lot for her coming out fast enough and my son really enjoyed getting me all to himself that final month. He still talks about "mama's milkies" and thinks the milk in the fridge came from me. He's 3. I wish I had gallons. I would share with all the working moms.
Our maternity leave is our problem; it's as if America is saying "tough luck, moms." That's how it seems. But maternity leave should be a healthcare problem, or rather, they should work with us on finding a solution. A solution so working mothers can actually take some adequate time off from work to be mothers so we can do what's best for our babies and be able to breastfeed without worrying about when and how we can hook ourselves up to a pump so we can bring home milk for baby.
Writer Jessica Grose agrees with me and says it very well in her article on Slate:

 ... the solution ... is to join the rest of the developed world and give American moms paid maternity leave, and more of it, instead of using government money to promote breastfeeding. ... But if we’re really serious about promoting breastfeeding for up to six months, there needs to be structural support beyond a few maternity ward posters telling women that breast is best.

She's right. We need more. We deserve more. Why aren't we fighting for more? Until working moms have better maternity leave, breastfeeding rates will never be what they should be, what experts recommend, what many moms want, what is best for baby.

Are you a working mom who breastfeeds? How challenging was/is it? Do you think we need better maternity leave in this country?


Image via sdminor81/Flickr

breastfeeding, natural parenting, maternity leave, back-to-work


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jalaz77 jalaz77

I am a FT working mom who breastfed and will again. I work in the medical field and co-workers are great about helping each other out to pump. It was hardest with my first because I went back to work at 5-6weeks with her, I breastfed til 6 months but had left over milk so I was able to give her that longer BUT had to mix with formula because I did diminish my supply when I went back to work cause I would be scrubbed in surgery for 2-6 hrs sometimes and couldn't pump til surgery was over or if I felt like exploding. However with my last 2 kids pumping was better and lasted longer and not confined to a case in surgery anymore. I will say this about my job, we will NEVER have a full 12weeks of paid time off. We get the 12 weeks off but it is impossible to accumulate vaca hrs to have it all paid, it maxes out until you are at a certain level of seniority, which doesn't happen til you are in your 50's or close to retiring. FMLA has strings attached, we were talking about that at work recently. That is why I went back so early with #1, worried about pay, not an issue now. So half is unpaid, which is BS! I told my hubby we should of gone to Canada or the Netherlands during our child bearing years cause there are more options and support.

Whew long post, sorry ladies!!

Blues... Blueshark77

I absolutely think we need better maternity leave in this country, but I also highly doubt it will happen. Women will be accused of seeking special treatment. Way too many employers have the same view that work comes first, family second. It's kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't. You go back to work and you are viewed as a neglectful mother, you stay at home you are lazy and unambitious. It's an insane juggling act.

nonmember avatar NoWay

I bf both of my boys for about 6 months. My workplace is extremely accomodating to bf mothers. They even installed an outlet in the shower room for me and my electric pump. At our new facility, we get to use a private office or conference room. Unfortunately, my milk supply dwindled quickly when I was pumping. It's just not the same as baby on breast.

nonmember avatar Kale

Yes, we in Canada get 50 weeks of paid maternity leave. That doesn't mean 100% of your salary - it means 55% of your salary up to a maximum of $42k (meaning, 55% of $42,oo - so you'd get $21k...if you qualify for the maximum). AND, we pay for that in our taxes. So if our USA counterparts want something similar, you'll need to pay for it. Basically a woman in Canada goes on unemployment for year - yes, it's called maternity leave, but the benefits are that of unemployment leave....and every year since I've been 16 and working full-time, the government has taken their cut on that - yes, we are very lucky in Canada to get this - but we are also taxed for it - so that it can happen. It isn't a freebie.

LoveM... LoveMyViolet

I breastfed until 14 months, but it was tough. Around 6 months my employer basically had enough with my pumping and made a recommendation on how often I should pump during the day and when. At that point I was only working 2 days a week (contract). After 3 months I left for a full-time job that was slightly more supportive. Meaning they didn't lecture me, but there was no mother room. I pumped in people's empty offices. It was weird. 

Had I been working full-time I bet I would have barely made it 6 months.

We need better maternity/paternity leave. The U.S. is vastly behind in this. This is what "family values" really means...truly valuing families and putting policies in place that actually back that up. If we as a nation want to improve our society, we need to invest in the family in meaningful ways. A policy that gives mammals a more realistic shot at being able to effectively nurse their young would be a decent start at showing that we respect the parent/child relationship and want families to do well...rather than heaping unrealistic expectations on them and then blaming them when they "fail."

Owlto... Owltotemmom

I went back to work 2 weeks after giving birth... I had no other choice, I was a single mother, needed my job, and a way to support my daughter.

I breastfed from the start, and also pumped at work on my lunch hour..

It was exhausting..

I leaked many times at work, and would sometimes call my babysitter to bring my daughter so I could nurse on my lunch breaks at work.

I did not have a supportive work environment, this was 17 years ago mind you.... But as far as I know, not much has changed.

And it is true, women are damned if they do, or damned if they don't, when it comes to breastfeeding.

The simple fact is, other countries lead the way when it comes to supporting breast feeding mothers.

I also want to state, that my daughter was never Ill for the first 3 years of her life, and I attribute that to her being breastfed.

The health benefits alone, should be enough proof that we need to support breastfeeding mothers in this country.

Journ... Journeysmama11

I work 2-3 days a week. I pump even if I only work 4 hours. My son is 6 and a half months. It's going great but I don't think I could have kept my supply up if I was working full-time. Partially paid maternity leave or some way to help cover a few epenses for mom and baby maybe similar to WIC (only nursing moms maternity leave covered longer or for the whole year/shorter(2-3months) for moms using fomula). Definitely think nursing mom's need more time with their babies!

nonmember avatar amandabananda

I agree with Kale. In Canada we get 55% of our salaries, but a lot of companies also top that up for up to 6 months (not mine!). I do think this has a major impact on breastfeeded. If I had to go back to work after 6 weeks, I wouldn't be able to pump at work and would have to use formula.

You can also play the "Big Pharma" card. Formula companies make too much by people not breastfeeding.

doodledo doodledo

I am not a working mom but I did nurse my son

for over two years. And there is no way I would have been able to nurse him for the first six months if I had to work and I am not even sure if I could have workef at all the first year of nursing. By the second year I might have been able to do it but it would have been harder for sure. Any working mom who somehow manages to continue nursing her babies has ALL my respect.

neslo... neslonturf

Personally...I hated breastfeeding. I still did it...but for different lengths of time for each of my four kids. Funny thing is...people are always saying how great it is...blah, blah, blah. But, my kid that got the least amount of breastmilk (he had colic, and I quit the second the doctor suggested "colic formula," which really helped him) is my healthiest kid, the only one without developmental delays or allergies. *shrug* 

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