Please note: this post was originally published in my blog, LadydeeLG. (Feel free to visit!)
Dear Members of Congress,
How are you enjoying your summer break? I thought I'd write a note to let you know, in case you missed it, that August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. Doctors recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for six months. The benefits of breastfeeding exclusively have been well documented… research shows that babies who are exclusively breastfed for six months may be less likely to develop childhood obesity, and less likely to develop other illnesses like respiratory illnesses or ear infections.
Six months is roughly 24 weeks. Unfortunately, there are a lot of parents who cannot stay home for that long to take care of a newborn. Why? Well, simply put, because we can't afford to. Furthermore, the law doesn't really allow us to do that. Did you know we are only allowed to take 12 weeks of UNPAID leave when we have a child? I mean, I know most of the members of Congress are not in childbearing years and most of your kids are all grown up, so you might not remember what it was like to have a newborn at home. It is hard work. Nowadays many moms work. We have to, things are expensive. We have bills. We can't just stay home and breastfeed for six months (even though, clearly, that would be best for our babies.)
As you see, there is a discrepancy between the law and the research. If we want healthy babies, (and who doesn't?) we have to have policies that help support those healthy babies. Because healthy babies mean a healthier economy… healthier babies mean healthier kids which means less parents missing work, and more productive parents. (Parents who are not at work stressing over their sick kids are more productive!) It all starts with breastfeeding but it is VERY hard to do without paid family leave.
Do you know how much money would be saved on healthcare costs if babies were breastfed? A lot. We're talking less emergency room visits, less kids with chronic asthma, less obesity-related illnesses (which can cause all sorts of illnesses that lead to unhealthy and sick adults.) We are also talking more productive parents.
Supporting paid family leave is a win-win. Don't you feel awful when you realize that the USA is the only one of the developed countries in the world where there is no paid leave? Doesn't that make you feel ashamed? Or, is that just indicative of the importance you place on families and mothers?
Without paid leave some parents have to go back to work almost immediately after giving birth, making breastfeeding very hard, exclusive breastfeeding nearly impossible. Without paid leave, parents are forced to make hard choices: going back to work soon after a child is born or staying home and missing mortgage payments. Breastfeeding may be good, but you know what isn’t good? Homelessness. People have to pay bills… and mothers must make hard choices and go back to work even though the best thing would be to stay home with their babies.
I can see how you don't understand that this might be a pressing issue.
I know the demographics aren't on your side. Congress members make a lot more than the average American, (I looked it up... $174,000 is the salary for a member of Congress... the median income for an American in 2013 was about $52,000.)
Many of you are older than the average American, (Congress average is about 57 in the House and 63 in the Senate, while the average American is about 38) and you are no longer having babies. (Or, in most cases, your spouses are not.) So, I can almost understand why you don't understand why people are making such a big deal. You don't get it, because you don't need to worry about it. But, have you visited families or talked to parents in your communities? What is their reality? Because most parents are trying to make ends meet. That is the reality.
Here is another harsh reality: having a baby is one of the main causes of poverty. Do you know what poor families are forced to do? Go on public assistance. I know how much many of you dislike that... so, wouldn't it be better if mothers and fathers had access to paid leave? YES, it would be, it would help lift people out of poverty and it would be good for business too, as MomsRising's Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner explains,
"Paid family leave gives children a healthy start, and lowers infant mortality by more than 20 percent. It’s also good for business – improving productivity, performance, profitability and employee morale, while reducing turnover."
All parents, whether low-income or not, should be able to take care of and nourish their children. Help support family life, healthy babies and a healthier economy by supporting breastfeeding and paid family leave... these go hand in hand.
So like I said earlier, this month is Breastfeeding Awareness Month. So while you are vacationing in your country home during this break, take this time to read up on the benefits of breastfeeding, and talk to real Americans (those making average salaries) and families about their experiences as parents. I'm not sure how much longer you can keep pretending paid family leave is not a necessity in our country. I wonder how much longer you want to keep the United States in the dark ages in regards to family-friendly policies.
This isn't such a crazy idea... Read more about why "To Support Breastfeeding, Paid Family and Medical Leave is Crucial" and Why Short Maternity Leaves Are a Major Obstacle to Breastfeeding. It's time to pass a National Paid Family leave policy and join the rest of the developed world.
Mom, activist and blogger