The importance of human breast milk, often called “liquid gold,” has been noted for years. Countless scientific studies and government agency reports have cited the health benefits of breastfeeding, which include decreased risk of:
- Necrotizing enterocolitis
- Lower respiratory infections
- Type 2 diabetes
The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life. The benefits of breastfeeding are clearly understood by mothers, as demonstrated by the 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card showing a high initiation rate. However, the significantly lower rate of mothers still breastfeeding at 6 months indicates that support is not being provided to mothers to allow continuation of exclusive breastfeeding.
In the United States, the number of new mothers returning to work continues to rise. In her new book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, notes the difficulties of being a working mother in a high-demand position and recalls being forced to find time during the day to pump, often as she was on conference calls. However, most mothers are not as fortunate as a Silicon Valley executive. They often return to lower-level positions at companies without pro-breastfeeding workplace policies, or more importantly the ability to implement such policies.
This lack of support is frequently not malicious, but rather demonstrative of managers who do not understand the the potential cost savings in employee retention and reduction of sick time taken by parents for children’s illnesses. Programs, such as the Business Case for Breastfeeding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, should be more widely utilized as they provide mothers and their supports with the information necessary to implement pro-breastfeeding workplace policies and potentially increase the percentage of mothers providing their baby with this nutritional and neurodevelopmental advantage.