Thursday, October 29, 2015

Most working moms still don’t have adequate workplace support for breastfeeding

According to a new University of Minnesota study, less than half of women who return to their jobs after giving birth are provided adequate time and space at their workplaces to pump breast milk, despite requirements by the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) that employers make such accommodations available.

Breastfeeding mothers who have low-paying jobs or who are single are particularly unlikely to have access to a clean, private room or to be given the break time necessary to pump breast milk at work, the study found.

The study also found, however, that when workplaces do provide such accommodations, new mothers are more than twice as likely to breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months, which is the length of time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other major health organizations.

The research was published earlier this month in the journal Women’s Health Issues.

“I was really surprised by the findings,” said Katy Kozhimannil, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the U of M’s School of Public Health, in an interview with MinnPost. “I don’t know if it was naive of me—or just hopeful—to expect that the Affordable Care Act would have had a greater influenced on what women report in terms of their actual access to breastfeeding accommodations in the workplace.”

After all, she added, the required accommodations are “so very basic.”

Under the ACA, employers with more than 50 employees must provide both a reasonable amount of great time and a private place, not a bathroom, for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk for at least one year.

However, as science journalist Tara Haelle pointed out in a Forbes article, “Employers routinely break the law when it comes to breastfeeding moms.”

She described that during her second year of gradate school while in a training as a teacher’s assistant, she sat on the floor under the bathroom sink during a break to pump breast milk for her then 3-month-old son while other grad students went to the bathroom, sidestepped her to wash their hands and occasionally gave her a puzzled or sympathetic look. It was the only outlet she could find during the brief break they had, and she still returned the training after everyone else, hoping the milk sitting in her portable lunchbox with an icepack wouldn’t spoil before she got home.

Sounds awful. But Haelle wrote, “Based on a completely unscientific poll on social media, my experience was both typical and far from the worst of it among breastfeeding moms returning to work after their child’s birth.”

And based on Kozhimannil’s completely scientific study, Haelle was actually in the company of more than half of women who return to work postpartum and try to continue breastfeeding.

For strong evidence that breastfeeding is by far the optimal nutrition choice to support maternal-child health. But mothers in this country have been suffered the impossible and stressful reality of hearing from public health advocates that they should breastfeed their children for health and other benefits while being denied the social infrastructure to make breastfeeding possible but the most privileged moms. Angry mothers turned to resent and even attack breastfeeding advocates, a New York Times article that argued “breastfeeding is oversold” gone viral.

It is unfortunate. As Julie Taylor, the president of Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine in New Rochelle, NY, pointed out, “The real problem is not the data or the advocates but that we as a society make it so hard for mothers to accomplish the medical community’s agreed-upon, evidence-based recommendations. Instead of critiquing unassailable facts, let’s use our collective wisdom and power to better support young families’s positive health choices at home, at work and at large.”

Breastfeeding my then 17-month-old during break in a conference. 
This is an original post to San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang. 

1 comment:

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