To Support Breastfeeding, Paid Family and Medical Leave is Crucial
By Liz Ben-Ishai
Having the time to bond with a new baby is crucial for many reasons. One reason why those first weeks after a baby is born are so vital is the importance of the breastfeeding relationship. However, for many mothers, that relationship is soon disrupted – as many as a quarter of mothers return to work less than 10 days after the birth of their child, and half are back at work within 40 days. Breastfeeding can and does continue once women return to work – the new federal healthcare law is helping to ensure that employers provide the accommodations that breastfeeding moms need. But to get off to a good start and ensure that breastfeeding can continue on, mothers need sufficient time away from work. And for most women, unpaid maternity leave is not a viable option.
While the actual act of breastfeeding is shared between a mother and her child, as a practice, breastfeeding is a societal effort. In her 2011 Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, then Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin, acknowledged that mothers are cognizant of their responsibilities to their children, approaching these with great devotion. But, Benjamin added, “responsibilities of others must be identified so that all mothers can obtain the information, help, and support they deserve when they breastfeed their infants. Identifying the support systems that are needed to help mothers meet their personal breastfeeding goals will allow them to stop feeling guilty and alone when problems with breastfeeding arise.” With half of mothers lacking paid maternity leave, a crucial part of that support system is missing.
Without the support they need, many mothers are not meeting their own breastfeeding goals – about 60 percent stop breastfeeding sooner than they would like. And 85 percent are unable to comply with the recommendations of every major medical organization: six months of exclusive breastfeeding, followed by continued breastfeeding and complementary foods over the rest of the first year and beyond. A national paid family and medical leave policy could help women to achieve their own goals and meet health professionals’ recommendations.
In California, where paid family leave has been a reality for almost a decade, the evidence is clear. Paid leave increases duration of breastfeeding. The median duration of breastfeeding doubled among new mothers who took paid family leave, including an increase from five to eleven weeks for mothers in higher-paying jobs and five to nine weeks for those in lower-paying jobs.
With these encouraging results in California, imagine what a national paid family leave program could do for moms and babies across the country.
In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, CLASP and the Breastfeeding Task Force of Los Angeles released a fact sheet today highlighting the links between paid family and medical leave and breastfeeding. For breastfeeding success and more, the time for paid family and medical leave is now.