Yesterday, Pediatrics published an article online about the effect of maternity leave on breastfeeding rates. The results were not surprising, but a good reminder of one huge road block this country has if it wants to meet the public health goal of having more nursing moms.
The CDC sets goals every 10 years as part of the Healthy People initiative and last year we fell short when it came to breastfeeding — the rates are stagnant and low. As I said last week in my post on hospital formula practices, even though 75 percent of moms breastfeed in the hospital, less than half are doing so at six months and only 13 percent are exclusively nursing at six months.
The new study looked at how breastfeeding rates relate to the amount of time moms have for maternity leave:
75 percent of moms who had at least 13 weeks of maternity leave started their babies on breast milk, compared to 65 percent of those who had one to six weeks off. The moms with 13 weeks of leave had the highest proportion of babies breastfed at three months, whereas those with one to six weeks had the lowest.
The article compared the maternity support in the U.S. with other developed countries. For example, Swedish mothers get 16 months of maternity leave at 80 percent pay. One study estimated that 78 percent of babies in Sweden are exclusively breastfed at three months. In the U.S. it’s 33 percent.
Japan offers 14 weeks at 66 percent pay and Canada offers 17 weeks at 55 percent pay. In the U.S., employers are not required to pay anything during maternity leave, the only requirement is under the Family and Medical Leave Act employers have to hold a woman’s job for 12 weeks, with lots of exceptions.
To me the maternity leave factor is one of many things keeping breastfeeding rates down: unfriendly hospital practices, decent breastfeeding support in the hospital but none once you leave (unless you pay for it), our obsession with baby growth charts (and our misunderstanding of how they work for breastfed babies)…what do you think? What’s the biggest reason for low nursing rates in this country?
Breastfeeding Wasn’t So Important to Me… Until I had to pump exclusively