What We Really Need to Support Breastfeeding Moms in NYC
This post originally appeared in the LadydeeLG blog.
Breastfeeding, while natural, is not easy, even if your kid does latch on. (Just like giving birth it hurts like a b*tch.) You have to deal with cracked and bleeding nipples, sometimes even mastitis. This is a lot to deal with when you are trying to figure out how to take care of a newborn, when your hormones are on a rollercoaster, when your feet are swollen, when your body has taken a beating… On top of all that, the city of NY wants to guilt women into breastfeeding? Mothers really don't need one more thing to stress them out after giving birth.
When I saw the posters in subway cars announcing the benefits of breastfeeding (part of the Latch on NYC campaign), a few thoughts came to mind, but my main concern was this: There are not enough policies in place to protect breastfeeding mothers. You cannot encourage mothers to breastfeed when maternity leave is only 12 weeks (if you are lucky), when maternity leave is not paid (at least not by law), when employers are not willing to provide mothers with safe spaces to pump milk, and when society in general looks at a mother breastfeeding like she has three heads, like she is doing something out of this world (when in reality, it is the (second) most natural thing in the world.) Doctors recommend that babies are exclusively breastfed for 6 months; however, the policies surrounding maternity leave do not match these recommendations.
The NYC.gov website states: “Ninety percent (90%) of NYC mothers start breastfeeding. However, by the time the baby reaches two months, only 31% of NYC mothers are still exclusively breastfeeding.” This is not a coincidence. A lot of mothers have to go back to work after 12 weeks, or even less time. How can you, on one hand, tell a mother that it is best to breastfeed her baby for six months (“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life.”) yet on the other hand, there are no laws to support her in doing so? How can she do this when she has to go back to work 4, 6, 8 or 12 weeks after her baby is born?
I gave birth at a “baby friendly” hospital. Among other things, the hospital doesn’t have a nursery, babies room with mommy 24/7, and they encourage breastfeeding, so much so that formula was harder to get than pain medicine (a nurse actually made that joke). According to a nurse, formula was kept under lock and key. I don’t have statistics to know what the success rate of this hospital is, how many women who gave birth there continued to breastfeed their babies (and for how long), but I can share some insight on my experience. If you read my earlier blog, “My truth about breastfeeding” you know that I was never for or against it, it is something that just happened naturally: I was lucky, my son latched on, I produced enough milk, my employer was understanding and I was able to pump, and I was incredibly lucky to be able to breastfeed him for 15 months. (in case you’re wondering, NO, I still can’t believe it.) While I had a positive experience, largely in part to my son’s ability to latch on, many women around me were having a difficult time. The woman I shared a room with had a baby who could not latch on, and he cried, and she was frustrated to the point of tears (completely understandable). The hospital offered breastfeeding classes, and they too had women who were frustrated that their babies were not latching, that the milk hadn’t come in yet and that it hurt.
You cannot guilt someone into doing something, because then it will be done for the wrong reasons. Furthermore, breastfeeding is such a personal experience, and so much of it depends not only on the woman, but on the baby and on the environment. I have friends who were adamant on their desire to breastfeed, but their children would not latch on and they had to resort to formula. I, was not particularly inclined, but was just lucky it all worked out. I am sure that there are women who choose (for whatever reason, I am not judging) to give formula instead of breast milk. There are women who due to medical reasons, cannot breastfeed.
The bottom line is this: breastfeeding is a personal choice. The City of NY can launch a campaign to promote the benefits of breastfeeding but it should not make women feel guilty about choosing to not do it (or being unable to). It would have been best to back up the pro-breastfeeding campaign with laws that support mothers, (both “stay-at-home” moms and working mothers) and provide opportunities for breastfeeding to be easier. Here are a few things that could be done:
1. Designated spaces for pumping in the workplace and around the city
2. Lactation consultants COVERED BY INSURANCE and additional support for breastfeeding mothers.
3. Paid maternity leave that allows for at least six months’ time off work, plus a flexible schedule if you are a breastfeeding mother.
Investing money on good quality healthcare during pregnancy and in the first months of a child’s life can make a difference in the long run, to both mother and child. If for no other reason, the City should be on board with these ideas because in the long run, they will save money. Breastfeeding is a huge money saver, cheaper than formula, but it also has been linked to less allergies, infections, etc. Helping women establish breastfeed will in the end save money on healthcare costs. Women need to know that they have resources and support available to them, and that if they choose to breastfeed, there are policies in place to back them up, to protect their jobs, to help them get through.
To end on a happy note...here’s a thought: instead of offering women gift bags with formula, why isn’t there a gift bag with goodies that help breastfeeding mothers, such as: Lansinoh lanolin cream, vitamins, fenugreek, breastfeeding pillow, gel soothies for pain and discomfort, a reduced price certificate for a breast pump and breastfeeding book. Now...that’s a real goodie bag.