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NY Times on Breastfeeding

Yesterday’s New York Times featured an article entitled “Breast-Feed or Else” that presented a fairly even-handed look at the most current research findings about the benefits of breast-feeding. It’s an interesting read, detailing the extensive benefits of breastfeeding, while balancing those with concern about putting too much pressure on women who are unable to breast-feed.

The article makes an excellent point about the disconnect between the government-led call to action for breast-feeding through the first six months of life and the lack of federal initiatives for supporting lactating mothers in the workplace. I’m an ardent fan of breastfeeding, and I nursed both of my daughters beyond their first year. But while I applaud the new recommendations for breastfeeding, I recognize how unfair they must seem to women who are compelled to return to their jobs just 12 weeks after giving birth. Pumping enough milk to avoid formula requires an enormous commitment on the mother’s part, and also relies on friendly conditions in the workplace.

Between those two considerations, it’s no wonder most women can’t manage it. If the government really wants to make an impact on the breastfeeding success rate, it needs to start by making more demands on employers, or by instituting statutory maternity pay, taking the economic burden off both the families and their employers. In Europe, this is standard practice (check out this link for a fascinating chart). Did you know that mothers in Sweden get 18 months paid maternity leave? Not surprisingly, there’s a 98% breastfeeding initiation rate there, and 72% of mothers are still nursing at six months. It’s great that the government wants women to breastfeed. Now it’s up to our lawmakers to give all of us a fighting chance.

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