Breast is Best. Anyone who has ever been pregnant has heard this phrase at some point. As a healthcare provider, the health benefits provided by breastmilk cannot be disputed. They have been proven time and time again, but does this mean that all moms can or should breastfeed?
Some women choose to breastfeed and have very little difficulty. They have done their homework, know what to expect, and have a strong social support system that allows them to fully devote the necessary time and attention to their nursling. However, many women do not live under these same circumstances. Maybe they had their heart set on breastfeeding but had a difficult latch or a lack of lactation support at their birthing hospital.
There are many reasons that women state as their reasons for difficulty maintaining a successful breastfeeding relationship, but today I want to focus on lack of money. “What do you mean, lack of money? Isn’t breastfeeding free?” Well, let’s explore.
In 2011, I was pregnant with my third child. At the time, I had a very stressful career, and it was taking a toll on my health and causing some concern for the health of the baby. A new opportunity came along, and it was exactly what I had been looking for. This new job opportunity offered me the time that I needed with my family in a much lower stress environment. The only problem was that I was about 7 1/2 months pregnant and did not qualify for FMLA, or Family Medical Leave Act.
At 35 weeks, the baby decided that she wanted to come early. I was having some contractions and small dilation, so my midwife decided that it would be in our best interest to be off work immediately, but I still had 5 weeks to go (I knew I wouldn’t go that long, but it was a possibility). My maternity leave started THAT DAY, and I only got 6 weeks! Stress!
At this time in my life, I had very little savings. We were living paycheck to paycheck. We couldn’t afford for me to be off for long without pay.
On September 21, 2011, our daughter was born at 37 weeks. I started breastfeeding immediately. We struggled some, but my mind was completely made up that this is what I wanted to do. After all, she would be my last baby (little did I know 😉 ).
When she turned 4 weeks old, my maternity leave was up. We were just getting started on our breastfeeding journey, it seemed. We were really starting to get into the swing of things, and I had to return to work. My supply was just beginning to regulate, and she was just a week or so shy of a growth spurt. Due to the nature of working as a nurse, I was not always able to pump every 2-3 hours, and after a couple of weeks, I had to start supplementing. Supplementing gradually turned into completely formula feeding.
Fast forward five years. I had my last baby girl, also born at 37 weeks, but this time I had been at my job for 5 years. Now I qualified for FMLA, had sick leave built up, and a little money saved. This situation was completely different. Even though breastfeeding started out a little rocky (weight loss and jaundice), I was able to take 12 weeks off, most of which were paid. I exclusively breastfed (pumped at work) for 8 months.Even with all of the extra time, it was still not smooth sailing, but we did it, and I firmly believe it’s because we had that time at home together to bond and establish a solid milk supply. We could’ve gone longer. I just chose to stop for other reasons, mainly biting. Ouch!
My point is that our current healthcare policies regarding maternity leave do not support breastfeeding mothers and babies. Many women are in the same situation as I. For many different reasons, moms aren’t allowed much leave or they simply cannot afford to be off work for the length of time that it takes to establish a solid milk supply. It’s almost as if one has to be financially “well off” to be able to be home long enough to make it work.
I know there will be those who say that if a mom really wants to do it bad enough, she will find a way. Maybe that is a true statement; maybe not. I can completely see why the mom who works the counter at a convenience store (sometimes an unplanned double shift because her relief didn’t show up) may have a hard time establishing a supply with so many hours away from baby and very limited pumping opportunities due to she is the only employee there and cannot take a 20 minute break every 2 to 3 hours. Does she want to breastfeed? Yes, but she has to make ends meet also, and this may require her to be away from home too often, destroying her milk supply and causing her to rely on formula.
If this same mom was offered a longer maternity leave with pay, would she be able to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship with her little one? I would say her chances would be much better.
As a country, I think we have a long way to go in the US, the greatest country on earth, when it comes to our maternity leave policies. We are so advanced in so many issues, but maternity leave policy is an area that needs A LOT of work. Mamas shouldn’t have to choose between providing our children with what has been proven to be nutrition specifically tailored for their needs or putting a roof over their heads. I pray that my girls don’t have to face these same “choices”.