The Wall Street Journal Online posted a good article, “Pumping Breast Milk on The Job Still Carries Costs.” I think the “carrying costs” part is a little confusing, though. The truth is that not helping moms to succeed at breastfeeding carries the greatest costs–for moms, babies, society and the environment. Still, the article does a good job covering some of the challenges of going back to work in a culture that does not fully appreciate the benefits of breastfeeding. “Despite the advantages for both mother and infant’s health and the potential for employers to reap fewer absences in the long run, expressing milk on the job remains a sensitive subject for many working women.”
I’m not sure if it’s a sensitive subject as much as it is an uphill battle for far too many women. It’s a shame that U.S. mothers are in a position where they have to choose between doing what’s best—best for their babies, best for their own health, best for employers, insurance companies, the environment and more—and what’s socially acceptable or convenient. Pumping at work is not convenient in the U.S., unless you have a white-collar job at one of a few companies that really support moms. Even then, our culture is such that many people are not comfortable with anyone pumping on the job, even if it is supported by company policy. “Mothers working low-wage jobs and jobs with high turnover are especially vulnerable to quitting breastfeeding early.”
What I particularly liked is that the article mentioned the role of stress in inhibiting milk production. The stress our culture puts mothers under by encouraging them to breastfeed but setting them up to fail can surely be blamed for the high numbers of women who think they can’t make enough milk, but probably could if they weren’t under stress—stress from in-laws, strangers, employers, hospitals, doctors and friends who mean well but undermine their confidence or badger them in various ways to give up breastfeeding.
The article also touched on the recent statement from the Centers of Disease Control encouraging breastfeeding to help babies fight off possible infection of the H1N1 (swine) flu.
A bit misleading is the implication that progress is being made because 43% of moms are doing some breastfeeding at 6 months vs. the government’s goal of 50% set for 2010. I know it’s important to acknowledge progress, but I can’t help but continuously be disappointed in the goal that was set at only 50%. Consider that in Sweden, 79% of moms are still breastfeeding at 6 months. More compelling is the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, and only 12% of all U.S. moms are making that goal.
That is where the real cost to all of us lies.