More than a dozen years into the 21st century, the notion of new mothers breastfeeding is about as controversial as women in the workforce, right?
Well, not so fast, at least not according to members of a Garfield County breastfeeding support group. In fact, they say, it is precisely because so many mothers are working that the issue has been rekindled.
“More women are having trouble meeting their breast-feeding goals,” said Betsy Bowie, a registered nurse and certified lactation counselor, because some workplaces do not make the necessary accommodations and so many women are expected to return to work so quickly.
And that is despite overwhelming evidence supporting the benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and baby as well as laws that require employers to make provisions for lactating mothers.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, requires companies that employ more than 50 people “to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express milk. … The employer must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to express breast milk.”
The local Breastfeeding Taskforce includes members representing Valley View Hospital Family Birth Place, Aspen Valley Hospital Birth Place, Family Visitor Programs and Nurse Family Partnership, WIC (Women Infants and Children) and Garfield County Public Health and Le Leche League. Members of the task force met earlier this month to discuss and promote breastfeeding in the context of August being declared National Breastfeeding Month and the first week of the month World Breastfeeding Week.
Most taskforce members agree that support for breastfeeding generally is quite good in the Roaring Fork Valley, where the benefits are also widely recognized.
“It’s a high support area for breastfeeding moms,” said Kim Martin, a registered nurse and lactation coordinator for Valley View Hospital.
Among the many benefits of breastfeeding are:
• Enhanced bonding between mother and child
• Breast milk contains natural antibodies, so breast-fed babies have fewer infections and require fewer medical visits, resulting in lower average medical costs
• Enhanced newborn brain development
• Less risk the baby will be overweight
• Reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
• Mothers who breastfeed return to pre-pregnancy weight more quickly, experience lower incidence of postpartum depression, and have a reduced chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer and osteoporosis
Besides, breastfeeding is “just an easier transition from womb to world” for the baby, said Bowie, particularly given that mother’s milk is biologically engineered by nature specifically for the child.
“We see evidence all the time” of the benefits, said Lori Gish, WIC educator for Garfield County Public Health.
And those benefits may well last a lifetime.
“What research is showing now is that what a baby eats affects her into her 60s and 70s,” said Corrine Merritt of La Leche League, an organization that provides mother-to-mother breastfeeding support.
Gish noted as well that employers benefit when new mothers breastfeed because, on average, those mothers miss less work time.
“It’s a win-win situation,” she said.
Despite all the benefits, most new mothers do not stick with breastfeeding. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about three out of four mothers begin breastfeeding immediately after birth, but only 15 percent of them are still breastfeeding exclusively after six months.