Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Promoting breastfeeding

A front-page article by Jodi Kantor in the New York Times last week described the "2-class system" for working mothers who breastfeed: one class has improving though still imperfect options for professional women in office settings, while the other class offers awful few options for most other women.
Nearly half of new mothers return to work within the first year of their child's life. But federal law offers no protection to mothers who express milk on the job -- despite the efforts of Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, who has introduced such legislation. "I can't understand why this doesn't move," she said. "This is pro-family, pro-health, pro-economy." ...

Public health authorities, alarmed at the gap between the breast-feeding haves and have-nots, are now trying to convince businesses that supporting the practice is a sound investment. "The Business Case for Breastfeeding," an upcoming campaign by the Department of Health and Human Services, will emphasize recent findings that breast-feeding reduces absenteeism and pediatrician bills.

In corporate America, lactation support can be a highly touted benefit, consisting of free or subsidized breast pumps, access to lactation consultants, and special rooms with telephones and Internet connections for employees who want to work as they pump, and CD players and reading material for those who do not. According to the nonprofit Families and Work Institute, a third of large corporations have lactation rooms....

In contrast, said Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on breast-feeding, her patients cannot afford a basic $50 breast pump -- an investment, she said, that "could prevent a lifetime of diseases." The academy urges women to breast-feed exclusively for six months and to continue until the child turns 1.

Many of her patients learn about breast-feeding through the government nutrition program Women, Infants, and Children, which distributes nursing literature to four million mothers, and also provides classes and lactation consultants. Because of this and similar efforts, 73 percent of mothers now breast-feed their newborns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But after six months, the number falls to 53 percent of college graduates, and 29 percent of mothers whose formal education ended with high school.
Here is a link to the status of Rep. Maloney's breastfeeding promotion bill, currently stalled in Congress.