Category Archives: Breastfeeding

Breastfeed and go broke?

Must be all that breastfeeding...

Much ado is being made of a study in the The American Sociological Review which showed that women pay a steep economic price for breasfeeding their babies.

That’s kind of a “well, duh!” statement, I realize. It’s no surprise—early motherhood is rarely an economic boom-time for any woman, particularly for those women who have to quit work to have a baby, or who don’t receive some kind of paid maternity leave. All that bonding comes at a cost.

The study found that breastfeeding doesn’t penalize all nursing mothers equally, though. “Short-duration” breastfeeders (ie, less than 6 months) and formula-feeding moms had similar loss of income over the five-year period. It was the “long-duration” breastfeeding women (greater than 6 months) who really took it in the pocketbook:

 “By contrast, women who breast-fed for longer durations experienced a much steeper decline in earned income over the first five years of their children’s lives.”

The study has some problems. The researchers don’t say anything about the women they studied, or about what other factors might have had an impact on length of nursing and income. Were the “long-duration” moms better off financially, and so better able to afford the drop in income? Did other potential “long-duration” breastfeeding moms end up in the “short-duration” category because of the financial need to quickly return to a workplaces hostile to breastfeeding? In other words, would the income differences be so stark if employers really embraced their breastfeeding employees?

You can read this study as evidence that breast feeding is financially bad for mothers and, ultimately, their children, as the loss of income makes life more difficult for families. Or you can see it as an indictment of how corporations (and by extension, American society) view breastfeeding—like paid vacation and sick leave, it’s just one more thing that gets in the way of a productivity. (All that icky workplace pumping! What a waste of widget-assembling time!)

So, bring on the formula, right?

Wrong. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breast-feed for 12 months or more. There’s sound scientific evidence to back up that recommendation. Unfortunately we live in a time and place where scientific evidence often takes a back seat to political expediency and corporate pressure. In short-term-profit-driven America, the health of the next generation of workers doesn’t count for much.

Still, there’s plenty you can do to help. The American Academy of Pediatrics has an excellent breastfeeding Advocacy Resource Guide. Do you have an advocacy group you’d like to mention? Pass it on!

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Filed under Breastfeeding, Politics

Another reason to breast feed (as if you needed one)

(Painting by Tamara de Lempicka)

A new study from Great Britain has found that breast fed babies have better lung function at age 12 than those who are formula fed.  This was particularly noticeable in the children of mothers who have asthma, a finding that contradicted some earlier research.

I’ll check on this, but I assume the improvement is attributed to better immune system function in breast fed children. As more research looks at the link between vaginal birth, breast feeding and immune system health, we’ll likely be seeing more studies like these.

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Filed under Asthma, Breastfeeding

Things I learned en route to looking up other things: Royal edition

Oy! Measles!

Something I didn’t know:

Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth breast-fed Prince Charles for two months in 1948, but was forced to stop when she contracted measles. For safety’s sake the Prince was sent away with the royal nannies for an extended period of time.

Elizabeth recovered, of course, and Charles didn’t catch the measles. But re-lactation wasn’t a royal priority, and so that was the end of breastfeeding for Charles.

Elizabeth was 22 years old when she came down with measles–a rather advanced age to catch a disease that typically attacked young children. Her misfortune was likely due to a kind of hoity-toity herd immunity–years of private tutoring and family-only holidays had greatly limited Elizabeth’s access to other kids (and their germs) during early childhood.

The Princess’s measles and early weaning make for a cautionary tale: pregnant and early postpartum women are particularly vulnerable to a number of infectious diseases.  That’s why pregnant/postpartum women today are offered pertussis vaccine (and influenza vaccine, in season). It’s a good way to prevent serious infection–and maybe an early end to breast feeding–for both mother and baby.

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Filed under Breastfeeding, Infectious diseases, Things I learned en route to looking up other things, Vaccines

Drop that bottle, ma’am!

"And you call yourself a mother?"

In most places on earth women worry about strangers yelling at them for breastfeeding in public. Here in northern California public nursing is so common that women are sometimes scolded for bottle-feeding their babies.

I take care of a woman I’ll call Wendy who has an endocrine condition that restricts how much breast milk she can produce. It wasn’t enough to fully feed her babies (her three kids are older now), so she had to “top off” each feeding with an ounce or so of formula. It would have been easier just to switch to formula, but Wendy was dedicated to giving her babies as much of her milk as she could.

It wasn’t easy. Whipping out a bottle of formula in certain parts of Sonoma County is tantamount to shooting whales for sport. And people (mainly other women) felt perfectly free to loudly point out Wendy’s failings as a mother.

The first time it happened Wendy was sitting on a park bench, feeding her first baby. When she switched from breast to bottle, an older woman crossed the park to lambaste Wendy for “brain-damaging” her child with formula. When Wendy tried to justify her crime by explaining her condition, the woman just got angrier–she eventually accused Wendy of “crappy, lazy parenting” and child abuse. This sort of thing happened with discouraging regularity.

With her second baby Wendy decided to avoid public feeding altogether, but after a couple of house-bound months with a newborn and a toddler, she decided to chance it. Same response–every so often she’d get an unwelcome earful from a passing stranger.

When her third baby came along Wendy decided to fight fire with, well, passive-aggressiveness: “When someone started in on me, I’d just stare back at them with the blankest open-mouthed stare I could manage,” she says today. “Eventually they’d give up and move on.”

Such is life up here in the redwoods…  I’m not a fan of formula, but I am also not a fan of browbeating new mothers.

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Good for her!

Occupy Mama, Brighton edition

When Claire Jones-Hughes was told to stop breastfeeding her four month-old in a cafe in Brighton, England, she didn’t simply button up and go away. Jones-Hughes, the founder of  brightonmums.com, summoned a flash mob of 40 mothers and babies to the cafe to protest.  The Brighton protest is part of a growing movement in England to normalize public breastfeeding.

The sad part of the tale is that most British women wouldn’t have felt comfortable joining Jones-Hughes’s protest. According to a poll by Mother and Baby magazine, 65% of British woman are uncomfortable with breastfeeding in public. I was surprised to see that 41% of American women feel the same way. Some mothers no doubt simply don’t feel comfortable exposing a breast in public, but I do wonder how much public disapproval has to do with it.

If any readers would like to share their breastfeeding-in-public stories, please do! I’d appreciate hearing from you.

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Filed under Breastfeeding, Maternal-child health