A variety of recent studies on the practice of breastfeeding have shown similar two-fold conclusions:
1. Breastfeeding an infant has multiple long-lasting health benefits for both mother and child,
2. American families do not do it enough.
According to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008 only 44 percent of infants are breastfed for the recommended minimum of six months and only 14 percent are breastfed exclusively (given no supplemental formula). In comparison with many other countries, these rates are extremely low. This is interesting not only because it is widely accepted that breastfeeding has tremendous health benefits for babies (lower rates of obesity and diabetes, better immune systems, fewer visits to the doctor’s office and lower medical costs) and mothers (lower rates of breast and ovarian cancers) but also because 77 percent of mothers initially start out by exclusively breastfeeding their infant. What causes the rates to decline so steeply in six months?
One reason explored by a recent CDC report is the idea that the American public is not comfortable with lactation and therefore does not foster environments that support the healthy practice. A huge reason that women stop breastfeeding is to go back to work after their maternity leave. If her workplace does not allow a new mother the time and safe space to express breast milk, it is probable her natural supply will decrease and supplementation will be necessary. Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act will require that all workplaces supply women with a space that is private and is not in a restroom in which they can pump breast milk or feed a baby. It is hoped that this marvelous policy addition will help to increase the percent of babies who are able to be breastfed through the crucial first six months of life.
Women often site stigma as another large deterrent to breastfeeding. Whether she is at a park, at a grocery store, in her place of worship or in a friend’s home, negative reactions from onlookers can cause a woman to feel ashamed and even violated.