A BLOG BY SHANNON FISHER
August was National Breastfeeding Month, as declared by the United States Breastfeeding Committee, and the first week of the month was deemed World Breastfeeding Week by the World Health Organization. Public and private efforts to accommodate the needs of breast feeding mothers and children do not always go seamlessly, and one of the goals of having a National Breastfeeding Month is to draw attention to this and raise awareness that everyone in society plays a part in helping mothers assimilate into post-maternity society with as little difficulty as possible. One major hurdle we have yet to overcome in our culture is “normalizing” breastfeeding, both in personal practice and public acceptance.
Lansinoh’s 2015 Survey of Breastfeeding Attitudes & Behaviors, conducted with the input of more than 13,000 women in 10 countries, indicates 96% of women agree that breastfeeding is the best way to feed a baby. Lansinoh is a wonderful resource for information and counseling on breastfeeding. For more results of their 2015 survey, see the Lansinoh 2015 Survey Infographic.
The effects of breastfeeding on a child’s short and long-term health are significant, especially in regard to their immune system and cognitive development. For the mother, benefits include decreasing the risk of developing both breast cancer and Type-2 diabetes, assistance with post-partum weight loss, and alleviation or lessened severity of postpartum depression. Breastfeeding triggers the release of hormones that help with relaxation and reduce stress.
Pumping or Feeding in the Workplace
This year, Lansinoh’s August awareness campaign placed an emphasis on workplace breastfeeding, citing the many reasons businesses should support breastfeeding at work. Federal law and 27 state laws require employers to provide break time and/or access to a private, sanitary room where breastfeeding mothers can pump or nurse. I discussed these laws, as well as some additional struggles facing working new mothers, in my interview last week with Lansinoh’s Vice President of Healthcare and Media Relations, Gina Cicatelli Ciagne.
The Affordable Care Act’s “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law requires that hourly employees be given break time and a private space to express milk while at work. Salaried women, though, are exempt from this law. The United States Breastfeeding Committee is working to change this, but state laws are also needed to ensure this right extends to all working mothers.
The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 6 months of breastfeeding for infants. In the United States, 74% of women feel the ideal length of time to breastfeed is for more than 6 months, but only 49% are able to attain that goal. Some of this is due to lack of workplace concessions, but much of it is because the public does not understand (or sometimes care about) the feeding needs of a mother and child. There is much work remaining, both in awareness and enacting legislation, to help rally our communities in the realization that breastfeeding benefits our society as a whole.
Public breastfeeding was once a highly debated topic, but it is steadily becoming accepted, and mandated, around the country. The Lansinoh survey said 67% of American women think public breastfeeding feels perfectly natural – which is 10% higher than just last year.
This change is due, in part, to efforts on local and state level. While Virginia is often in the forefront of national politics, the Commonwealth was behind the curve on this issue, being one of the last three states to pass a law to protect breastfeeding in public. (Idaho is currently the only state without such laws, and there is an active coalition of breastfeeding supporters working diligently to pass breastfeeding legislation.)
The legislative push in Virginia’s 2015 General Assembly session was started by Kate Noon, a member of the Virginia Breastfeeding Taskforce and the Virginia Breastfeeding Advisory Committee. She, as a private citizen, had the idea for the bill and approached several lawmakers about sponsoring it. It was happily sponsored and co-sponsored by many legislators, ultimately passing both houses unanimously. The new law in Virginia went into effect on July 1, 2015. It simply states that women have the right to breastfeed in any public place where the mother is lawfully present. I interviewed Kate in the spring, and we discussed breastfeeding, the challenges women face, and the process Kate used to turn her idea into a Virginia State law.
Also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Lactation Counselor, Kate has since joined forces with many others who are advocating for the normalization of breastfeeding. Another group, RVA Breastfeeds, ran a social media campaign, including placing life-sized cutouts of women breastfeeding throughout Virginia’s capital city. This was to send the message that breastfeeding is a normal function of motherhood with which the public needs to become comfortable. The campaign received 100,000 engagements on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The campaign also received local television coverage.
“Breastfeeding has profound short and long term impacts on the health of children and their mothers, yet it is often framed as a women’s issue. Given the recent passage of Virginia legislation protecting women’s right to breastfeed in public, we thought the time was right for a much broader conversation,” said Leslie Lytle, the Richmond Health Action Alliance’s Breastfeeding Coordinator. “Women don’t breastfeed in isolation. The support of fathers, family members, health care providers, and the larger community is critically important in helping women achieve their breastfeeding goals. A social media campaign provides a vehicle to get the word out to multiple audiences that this is an important public health issue in which everyone has a role.”
Even Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe, joined the conversation by signing a proclamation acknowledging National Breastfeeding Awareness Month in the Commonwealth. His proclamation extolled the virtues of breastfeeding and encouraged all employers to accommodate the needs of lactating mothers.
In addition to the local, state and national efforts by individuals and organizations, two branches of the United States Armed Forces are also paying more attention to the needs of new mothers and children. Both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines have extended maternity leave from 6 to 18 weeks, which gives these mothers much more time to breastfeed and adjust to motherhood.
A Positive Experience
Breastfeeding increases the bond between mother and child. Ninety-two percent of women are nervous about nursing, worried they will not be able to produce milk or that their child will not be able to latch on to feed. For mothers who are nervous about breastfeeding, there are lactation consultants available who can guide you and your baby through making it the most pleasant experience possible. Others benefit from affirmations that help them feel more in control of their own body and mother/child relationship. I spoke earlier in the month with author, Susan Singer, about her book for expectant mothers, Birth Affirmations. Positive messages like these help pregnant women develop an empowered, positive mindset for giving birth and caring for their newborn.
Breastfeeding not only benefits parents and children, but it benefits society by affecting the bottom line. A 2010 Journal of Pediatrics study concluded that if 90 percent of U.S. families would follow the guidelines to breastfeed exclusively for six months, the United States would save $13 billion annually from medical and death expenses.
It seems support for breastfeeding in public and the workplace is becoming more universal in America, but there is still a stigma attached to it. When indecency laws in certain locations prohibit public breastfeeding, those laws contradict the mother’s right to feed. More importantly, they interfere with the baby’s right to eat.
Written by Shannon Fisher