As a Canadian, and more importantly a mother, I have been feeling great trepidation for Americans as of late, and certainly leading up to the most terrifying US election that I can recall in my lifetime. I have many friends in the US and I adore visiting your great country; however sometimes the differences between our neighboring nations take my breath away.
Here in Canada, we receive a total of 50 weeks paid parental and maternity leave. The website thinkprogress.org reports that the United States is one of only three countries out of 178 worldwide with no mandated paid maternity leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) signed into law in 1993 requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a baby, but many women cannot afford to take that much time off without a paycheck. The protection and support Obamacare provides to working, nursing mothers is crucial to a woman’s ability to maintain her breastmilk supply; defending the right to exist in the workplace as lactating women should be a priority.
A woman’s breastmilk supply regulates over the course of the first 4 – 6 weeks after birth. Long separations from her baby can negatively impact a mother’s ability to make breastmilk. Breastmilk production relies on frequent emptying of the breasts to signal a woman’s body to keep producing more milk; regularly delaying breastfeeding or pumping will result in a decreased milk supply over time. Milk production is slowed when milk accumulates in the breast because full breasts secrete Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation. FIL is a body’s signal to produce less milk.
If a woman is denied the opportunity to pump breastmilk during her workday, her supply will dwindle and eventually disappear. Her ability to breastfeed her child will cease to exist.
Zero weeks paid. It seems so backwards to me. Think about how the US is idealized in society – the land of the free, home of the brave; the greatest country in the history of the world; the land of opportunity! Policy needs to be improved to reflect this venerable reputation. I think it is completely asinine how backwards American policymakers’ thinking is around paid maternity leave. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, if 90% of mothers exclusively breastfed their babies for just six months, it would save 911 babies’ lives and $13B in health care costs annually.
Breastfeeding has been proven to be beneficial for both mother and child. Breastmilk contains antibodies and live properties that cannot be replicated in formula. The incidences of respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, as well as ear infections, are reduced among breastfed babies. Breastfeeding has been shown to protect against SIDS, type 1 diabetes, asthma, celiac disease, obesity, and certain types of childhood cancers. Breastfeeding mothers have a lower risk of developing osteoporosis, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and breast and ovarian cancer.
The political processes and policies of our two countries both have their strengths and weaknesses. What has worked in Canada and many other countries with socialized healthcare, however, is worth being considered as an option for America. Something is drastically wrong with a system when new mothers lament that they are too poor to breastfeed because their jobs do not allow them breaks to manage their milk supply.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) is the health insurance reform legislation signed into law in 2010 that requires health plans to cover preventative services that have strong scientific evidence of their health benefits, like breastfeeding, at no cost. It includes the “Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law which requires employers with 50+ employees to provide adequate break time and a private, non-bathroom space for nursing mothers to pump breastmilk during the workday for up to a year after the child’s birth. Obamacare was modified in 2012 to include additional provisions for women, including breastfeeding support, counseling, and supplies. Health plans are required to cover these services and supplies, such as lactation consultants and breast pumps, without cost sharing (i.e. no copayment, coinsurance, or deductible).
If Obamacare is changed to no longer require health plans to cover the cost of breastfeeding support and supplies, or if “Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers” is eliminated, countless breastfeeding relationships will be in jeopardy and some may not even begin if mothers believe that their decision to breastfeed will not be sustainable without support. The potential medical conditions that could develop as a result cannot be measured. Breastfeeding mothers, and those who support them, should encourage their elected officials to support Obamacare and expand “Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers” to include all working mothers.
Healthcare reform has been a hotly debated topic during this year’s presidential election. Both Democrats and Republicans have discussed changes to Obamacare, with some going so far as to threaten to repeal the law. The June announcement by the Department of Labor to extend the Reasonable Break time for Nursing Mothers to millions of additional workers is a step in the right direction that could be snatched away even before it comes into effect in December.
If you are, or know, a mother or mother-to-be who plans to breastfeed, then you must cast your vote carefully on November 8th. Do what you can to educate yourself regarding each candidate’s position on the issues that are most important to you. And remember, as a new mom you are NOT alone. I only wish I had the village that is the internet when I was breastfeeding my girls. Join your local La Leche League chapter; reach out to other moms online; ASK for help when you need it. And stand up for your right to pump at work. You are stronger than you think.