Breastfeeding moms need support to succeed
This month, a Washington mom made news by getting kicked out of a restaurant for breastfeeding her infant son. Women need support, not judgment, and certainly not shame when feeding their babies. The restaurant owner made a bad situation worse when responding to the family's online review, "Be like decent people not like animals, there are places for everything and this place is not to breastfeed your children."
The science supports that "breast is best," but what we don't talk about is that the most common deterrent from breastfeeding is lack of support.
I was lucky when my babies were born. I worked from home and had a spouse who supported my breastfeeding goals. However, for women who don't work from home, or who work for a small business where only one person is in the store at a time, or who work for someone like a restaurant owner who berates customers with infants to feed, finding a time and a place for pumping to support breastfeeding goals is a huge hurdle to overcome. Amy Berry, a registered nurse with International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners certification and a lactation consultant for Mercy Health in Cleveland, says, "If women had support, we would have a longer maternity leave and more support for heading back to work."
The U.S. categorized maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which only ensures 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Business.org recently compiled data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to look at which countries best supported new parents. They ranked each country "according to its full-rate equivalent pay for maternity leave." The United States came dead last on a list of 24. Both Canada and Mexico support new families far better.
Many parents cannot afford to take the allowable unpaid time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act and return to work much sooner than 12 weeks. Trying to establish a breastfeeding relationship with your child under those constraints is near impossible. Berry says, "That's why it's important to meet mothers where they are and support their journey." Remove the shame on both sides. For example, if a person's only intent is to put the baby to the breast in the hospital, then, Berry says, "Let's do what we need to do to make that happen." Approaching it that way offers more peace.
Parents also shouldn't feel like they have to battle public stigma regarding their choices in feeding their child. People have to navigate what their support system will allow. If there's not someone at home who can support your breastfeeding journey or if you're going back to a workplace where your only option for pumping is in a bathroom, your chances of sticking with it drop. All of the data in the world about how much better breastfeeding is for your child does not help a new parent overcome the lack of support to make that happen.
Meet moms where they are, and help them feed their babies in a way that makes most sense for them. "That's the one thing about breastfeeding that's great," Berry says, "It's pretty forgiving." You can decide to pump, or you can decide to bottle-feed formula while you're at work but also keep those precious bedtime and early morning nursing feeds. It's not an all or nothing situation. The process can flex to meet your needs, but if you don't have knowledgeable guidance and support around you, it's pretty hard to navigate on your own. And no one should have to worry about snide comments and shaming in public spaces. First, in these times of food insecurity, let's be glad the child is fed.
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