I doubt that the general public, prior to about a year ago, ever put much thought into lactation rooms, breast pumps, or toting breast milk in coolers. Searching the internet to find herbal supplements to increase milk supply, taking lunch breaks to find breast pump parts that were left behind in the dishwasher on sterilize, or making quick trips to the bathroom in the middle of a meeting to change breast pads because of leaking are all part of the daily life of a working mother. Breastfeeding is part of the Healthy People 2010 and Healthy People 2020 initiatives and yet, we haven’t considered the difficulties the working mother encounters on a day to day basis. The mother that works retail and only gets a few weeks of maternity leave is back at work before her milk supply has been fully established finds herself supplementing with formula as a compromise for a paycheck. How do we overcome barriers such as these?
Breast milk contains the necessary nutrients for infants in the first few months of life. Beginning with the antibodies found in colostrum, breastfed babies are protected from numerous health problems. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services enumerates many of these health benefits including fewer ear infections, stomach viruses, respiratory infections, asthma, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome, and obesity. Human milk is also more easily digested than formula which results in less colic, gas, and spitting up, and has also been shown to reduce food allergies. Infant formula is the scientific food alternative which strives to imitate human breast milk. Babies can do well on a formula diet and lead healthy lives however, breast milk contains at least 100; some sources say up to 400, ingredients not found in formula including 4 unique proteins and antibodies that cannot be artificially manufactured. Formula also does not match the chemical ratios found in mother’s milk, containing different amounts of fat, sugar, hormones, and proteins. The growing trend of formula feeding threatens the health of our expanding American populace. It is important to begin using a natural approach to infant feeding early in a newborns life. And by providing working women the space, privacy, and modality to express breast milk in a comfortable and sanitary location mothers can continue providing their infants with breast milk even after returning to work.
The care and nurture of an infant can be a stressful time in a mother’s life. Breastfeeding allows a mother to take some quiet time with her baby, helping them bond physically and emotionally. If a mother is unable to find a comfortable and relaxed place to express while at work it adds unnecessary stress and can dramatically affect their milk supply. Women are continuing to gain rights to breastfeed, however finding a comfortable, sanitary, welcoming place while at work continues to be difficult. To become an easily implemented modality for infant health, breastfeeding needs to be socially acceptable, and well supported both in public and in the workplace.
The Breastfeeding Promotion Act protects breastfeeding mothers from discrimination in the workplace, requires large employers to provide the time and private space moms need to express milk, and provides for tax incentives for employers that establish private lactation areas in the workplace. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is quoted as saying, “‘The Breastfeeding Promotion Act’ recognizes both scientific fact and the way Americans live now: human milk is the best nutrient for new babies– and most mothers have to go back to work during a child’s first year, when breastfeeding is most important.” Americans are now beginning to recognize the importance of breastfeeding for the health of our nation and the realities of a women’s life in society today. We need to continue to work to help break down barriers to make breastfeeding a reality for every working mother.
Posted by: Madeline Arkin