To Boost Breastfeeding, The US Should Boost Maternity Leave
Mothers, it looks like some health researchers from the University of South Carolina just learned something that you already know and struggle with: heading back to work soon after the birth of your baby prohibits you from regularly breastfeeding. Mothers who have a maternity leave that extends longer than six weeks are more likely to breastfeed and stick to it compared to ladies who return one to six weeks after birth. I’ve known quite a few dedicated mothers who have taken to pumping after going back to work, but even that takes a certain amount of time and resources that many women just don’t have.
For breast-feeding rates to improve, contend experts and advocates, there has to be a significant amount of societal support in terms of longer, paid leaves. Many women can’t afford to not earn an income, leading them to head back to the workplace soon after they give birth. A greater proportion of poorer women return to work within six weeks, which likely contributes to their lower breast-feeding initiation rates.
And with more and more families relying on a dual income to stay afloat, working women with kids are occupying a bigger chunk of the employed demographic. Recognizing their needs, as well as the needs of their family, is an essential change — and the 12 weeks of maternity leave protected by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) just doesn’t cut it.
The stress that the short maternity leave in the US puts on families, specifically mothers, should be enough to warrant attention and change. But now with the health and well-being of babies to add to the list, perhaps more heads will turn.