Breastfeeding has significant health benefits for babies – from protecting them from illness to reducing the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Children who were breastfed are less likely to develop asthma or become obese. Breastfeeding is also associated with health benefits for women, including decreasing the risk of certain cancers. Families that breastfeed can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on formula.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed until they are 6 months. Yet, even though 75% of women initially breastfeed their babies, by the time babies reach 6 months old only 13% are exclusively breastfed. Breastfeeding rates are lower among low-income mothers.
Breastfeeding may not be the right choice for every woman and baby. But what is keeping those who wish to breastfeed from following through with their plans?
Half of all mothers with children under a year are employed. Working mothers identify lack of maternity leave and returning to work as significant barriers to breastfeeding their babies. Families are often dependent on the new mother’s income, but only 12% of private sector workers have access to employer provided paid family leave. That means that, even for those fortunate enough to receive job-protected time off from work, taking the time is not a practical possibility, especially for low wage workers.
The availability of Paid Family Leave in California has doubled the median amount of time new mothers breastfeed their babies. Providing some wage replacement for mothers with a new baby makes taking leave possible for working mothers. Longer periods of parental leave are associated with longer duration of breastfeeding.
Through our Work & Family helpline, we hear from thousands of workers a year struggling to meet family caregiving obligations while keeping their jobs. Paid Family Leave is a lifeline for low-income mothers, who too often return to work as soon as their benefits conclude even if they are eligible for more time off from work. One of our callers, Maria Elena, works at a laundromat and was eligible to take 12 weeks of job-protected leave to bond with her new baby. Nevertheless, she returned to work at the end of her 6 weeks of PFL benefits because she could not make ends meet without her income—it had been extremely difficult for the family to go without her full pay during the crucial time of welcoming her baby home. Without PFL she would have been forced to return to work even sooner.
Too often, women are forced to choose between caring for their newborn infants and supporting themselves and their families. Long-term security and health can depend on those critical opportunities early in life. Paid Family Leave gives vital support to women who wish to breastfeed their babies, improving health outcomes for both women and infants.
We need the FAMILY Act to provide similar wage replacement to workers across the county. Medical professionals encourage breastfeeding and most new moms intend to breastfeed their children, but without any access to pay we are not giving new low income moms the support they need to make that choice. Providing partial pay on a national level through the FAMILY Act will give more working mothers the opportunity to breastfeed their babies longer.