Freakingridiculous Fridays: The USA and (not) Breastfeeding

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) Section on Breastfeeding, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Academy of Family Physicians, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, and many other health organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. A study by Harvard Medical School last year showed that if 90 percent of mothers followed the standard medical advice of feeding infants only breast milk for their first six months, the United States could save $13 billion a year in health care costs and prevent the premature deaths of 900 infants each year from respiratory illness and other infections.

However, in the U.S., while 75 percent of mothers start out breastfeeding, only 13 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed at the end of six months.

In 2009, half of all mothers with children younger than 12 months were employed, and more than two-thirds of those employed worked full-time.

Only four countries [on earth] offer no legal guarantee of paid maternity leave –Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia, and the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only 11 percent of American employees have the option of taking paid medical leave.

Employed women have been less likely to initiate breastfeeding, and they tend to breastfeed for a shorter length of time than women who are not employed.

In 2009, only 15 U.S. states required that employers support breastfeeding employees when they return to work. 

In 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) required that employers provide reasonable, though unpaid, break time for a mother to express milk and a place, other than a restroom, that is private and clean where she can express her milk. As part of first lady Michelle Obama’s breastfeeding initiative, the IRS issued a ruling allowing mothers to use pretax money from their flexible spending accounts to cover the cost of breast pumps and other supplies.

Sarah Palin, conservative anti-Obama politician focused on promoting family values, publicly blasted and mocked Michelle Obama’s initiative after previously announcing she would feed her family S’Mores in protest of Mrs. Obama’s childhood obesity initiative. Meanwhile, Janet Walsh, deputy women’s rights director of Human Rights Watch states that “despite its enthusiasm about ‘family values’, the U.S. is decades behind other countries in ensuring the well-being of working families.”

Cultures who have low incidence of postpartum mental illness all have rituals that provide support and care for new mothers. These cultures exhibit several protective social structures. Such structures include “a distinct postpardum period” and “functional assistance.”

An anthropological study of the American postpardum experience is described: “She may or may not have anyone to help her at home, chances are no one at the hospital has even asked.  Her mate will probably return to work within the week, and she is left alone to make sure she has enough to eat, to teach herself to breastfeed, and to recuperate from birth.  The people who provided attention during her pregnancy are no longer there, and the people who do come around are often more interested in the baby.  There probably are resources in her community that can help, but she has no idea where they are and feels too overwhelmed to seek them out for herself.  So she must fend for herself as best she can.”

Let’s get with it, America. Now THAT is Freakingridiculous.


15 thoughts on “Freakingridiculous Fridays: The USA and (not) Breastfeeding

  1. This is a great post Sara. I’d be interested to see the socio-economic disparity of the 13% versus the other 87%. It’s much more realistic for a female executive to lock her office door and pump(via experiences of sister and friends) than for a waitress or cashier to do the same. My point being, perhaps the efforts need to be focused on a certain segment of the work force that those in positions of power so often leave stranded.

  2. You are so right!!! I have tred to keep up with breastfeeding after going back to work when Liam was 3 months old, but my milk supply has decreased. Finding the time to pump twice during a work day is difficult and sometimes problematic because I am not always at my office. I don’t want to quit on breastfeeding early just because it doesn’t fit into my work schedule and I am worried my supply will keep decreasing with the stress of work. This country needs to focus on the importance of supporting the family, starting with bringing baby home from the hospital!

  3. What a great post! It’s so sad that mothers have to choose between working and breastfeeding. It’s even sadder that they have to choose between being a “patriot” and breastfeeding. America can be a truly odd place.

  4. Good post Sara. I was only working part-time with Maddie and Finn, but full-time with JT, and breastfed him the shortest, even though he was the best at it! There’s definitely a correlation.

  5. FYI Disney World has glorious breastfeeding facilities. I went there for Guario’s wedding when Maddie was 3 months old. I was pleasantly suprised with private, dimly lit rooms with rockers and music–all in the middle of the Magic Kingdom. So it CAN be done! I’ll never forget it. That company can have my vacation dollars from now until eternity.

  6. Great piece, Sarah.
    A number of my (well off, professional) friends quit breastfeeding because their babies turned out to have allergies, and what they were eating and excreting through breast milk was making their babies sick. They tried elimination dieting while working full time to resolve the problem, but it proved impossible while running on little sleep and energy. As hard as it was for them, imagine the younger women, without science degrees comfortable office jobs.

  7. We need to focus on breastfeeding education in order to change the views on it.

    BTW, you might want to double check what the Palin quote actually had to do with.

      • Mmm, chocolate. Never had much taste for it until I was pregnant with #3. Had to have a small piece just about every night. I still get the occasional craving.
        Don’t want to sound like I am telling you how to write because I am so not doing that. Please don’t take it that way, but what does Palin’s comment have to do with the topic of breastfeeding? Instead I would love to see statistics on how breastfeeding lowers childhood obesity & tie that into Michelle Obama’s great platform. Maybe a follow up blog post? Like I said before, education would be so much more beneficial instead of finger pointing. Has nothing to do with Palin. I would say that about anyone.

        It disgust me the amount of people I have come across who think bfing is disgusting. Even some of them are moms! How can something that is naturally produced be disgusting. When I had #1 I was discrete about nursing. I would go try to find a place. That didn’t even last a year. 4 kids later & 6 years of pretty much non-stop nursing I have no issue doing it where ever, but it still shocks me when I can clear out a room of people for doing so. My kids have been around it all their life so hopefully they will not grow up to be disgusted by it. In fact #2 & #3 pretend to nurse their babies. Doesn’t even phase my husband, thank goodness.

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