Working Moms Don't Have a Fair Shot at Breastfeeding


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

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