Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Good News For Moms

Apparently, a couple weeks ago a bill was submitted in Congress that would allow all mothers the ability to take time off to pump breast milk while working, and would offer a tax credit for companies to set up proper facilities for nursing moms.

Now, I probably don't have to tell most of you about both the environmental and health benefits of breast feeding. I think those benefits have been fairly loudly publicized. Still, I was shocked by some of the stats in this New York Times article. The percentage of moms in the top income bracket who breast feed is about 25 points higher than the percentage of moms who breast feed in the bottom income bracket.

There is no reason that wealthier parents should breastfeed more than poorer moms. Breast milk is, among other things, free.

But in fact, wealthier moms do breastfeed more because poorer moms are 1) less likely to take time off for leave 2) more likely to work in jobs where they have no place nor time to pump.

We live in a culture of blame.

When a mom doesn't breast feed, she is blamed for not doing so. She is castigated as selfish and uncaring. When another person drives to work, they are refusing to sacrifice. They don't care about the Earth or they would take the bus. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

And we fail to take account of the socio-economic, legal, and political institutions that influence our behavior. You can't breast feed if you have to work and you aren't allowed time or facilities to pump. You can't take the bus if the bus triples your commute time and lessens your already precious little time with your family and friends.

Yes, we are back to my favorite topic. It's the institutions, stupid! I think I'm going to make tee-shirts.

Personally, I think this act seems like a good step forward, though clearly not enough. I'd love to see more comprehensive legislation for parents in the future including paid parental leave for both mothers AND fathers. But until then, time to pump is a start.


Joyce said...

I'm glad they are trying to pass that legislation.
I do think there is a social component to the stats you quote regarding income. In my experience, women do what their moms did, for the most part. The swing back to breastfeeding (from bottle feeding) happened in the late 60s, and it happened first among educated women who were willing to buck tradition because they learned about the benefits of breast feeding. I can tell you, women my age were still having to stand up to their moms sometimes to do this "odd" thing, (I had my first in '79). I would say that education and a sense of empowerment as a mom were bigger factors than workplace conditions, though I'm sure length of maternity leave is a big factor, too.

Allison said...

Ah, favorite controversial topic alongside religion and politics.

I think that you could be right about work interfering with breastfeeding, but also I think there is still a social stigma in some circles that breastfeeding is "hillbilly." (Before anyone judges me, I breastfed my son.) Secondly, I think breasts have been so sexualized in our culture that people, even me, get uncomfortable at the sight of a breast in public. Probably why I only breastfed my son at home or covered in the car.

Regarding companies and breastfeeding, at the time I was pregnant, I was freelancing for Yahoo! in Burbank, CA and they had "mother's rooms." These were dedicated rooms with fridges, sinks and couches (with alarm clocks) where pregnant and/or breastfeeding moms could go anytime and pump or rest, if needed. I was amazed that any company could be so advanced. It almost enticed me take a full time job there. But I decided to work at home with my son.

Alex said...

That legislation sounds great. I live in Germany where the 'Mother Protection' law means that while you are pregnant and for 3 years after you can't be fired (and only made redundant in exceptional circumstances). You are also entitled to take those 3 years off and then you are guaranteed an equal position to come back to. If you don't want to or can't afford three years off, you are entitled to come back part-time. And about 2 years ago the government started paying maternity leave payments of 67% of a mother's income for one year (it is capped, but at quite a high level and every mother, even if they didn't work before the pregnancy, still gets a minimum amount).

So in other words Germany rocks! It is a great place to have kids. Since the paid maternity leave was introduced there has been a real baby boom (I can't quote exact figures but there are pushchairs and babies everywhere these days!).

Pretty much everyone breastfeeds and normally for the whole first year and often for 2 years. It is totally accepted and I have no personal issues with breastfeeding in a cafe or while walking down the street (if necessary!) and I have never had anyone say anything or even give me a sideways glance. It is just a totally normal and accepted thing to do here.

A side note is that bottle-feeding of small babies is considered ignorant or more lower class here - an interesting contrast to the attitudes where Allison is living!

The downside to this family friendly attitude is that Germany has one of the lowest rates of female workforce participation in the world (but this is also because German kids only go to school from 8am to 1pm).

It stills seems that the German attitude is somewhat that the women's job is to have kids. While I don't want this to be my full-time job for my whole life, it is great that for a couple of years it is acknowledged that it is a job and therefore should be paid and valued in society. Breastfeeding is really important for the child's development and better for the planet but it can be really difficult to do this important job without adequate support, both financially and culturally.