Breast is Best

A guest blog entry from Jay Smith, MD, MPH - Policy Committee C0-Chair

Nineteen years ago, my wife needed to return to her work teaching special education students while our baby was still just a few months old.  But the only place in the school that her principal would allow her to breastfeed was in a bathroom stall.  Since the baby’s schedule of feeding was good to go until noontime that would have meant eating lunch there, too.  Fortunately, we were able to leave school grounds and afford the additional expense when I brought the baby to her to have lunch at a nearby restaurant.  It was pretty easy to be discreet with loose tops and nursing bras.  While that precaution shouldn’t be necessary, some are unreasonably shocked by the slim possibility that they will see the uncovered breast for a moment.  For the most part, even the waitress was unaware most of the time that this was happening and we received no complaints.  But in many jobs that would not work out.

In the current economic circumstances for many young families, the only reasonable option is for mothers to return to work quite early in their infant’s life.  Workplace policies that make it difficult to continue breastfeeding are a major impediment to mothers providing their infants with this best preventive health tool.  In many parts of the world, mothers work with the baby slung on their hip with ready access to the breast.  Nobody is upset to see a baby feeding in public.  That does not seem likely to become possible here but reasonable accommodation for scheduled breastfeeding during work breaks is hugely important so that babies and mothers are not disadvantaged.

In the policy statement, "Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk," published in the March 2012 issue of Pediatrics (published online Feb. 27), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirmed its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby's life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age.

Their website goes on to list several of the health benefits of this recommendation: “Breastfeeding provides a protective effect against respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases, and allergies including asthma, eczema and atopic dermatitis. The rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is reduced by over a third in breastfed babies, and there is a 15 percent to 30 percent reduction in adolescent and adult obesity in breastfed vs. non-breastfed infants.”

SB 219, giving mothers the right to breast feed, passed the Senate last month and crossed over into the House. However, there seems to be opposition to this bill in the House commerce committee.  I’m not sure why that is but I do know that they are holding a committee work session on this bill on May 7th.  Sending your own Representative on that committee your thoughts could be especially helpful (they tend not to like mass emails so don’t cut and paste from here).  If you want, you can send something to the entire committee about your own experiences of workplace restrictions.  Find the members and their contact information here


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