According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more U.S. moms are breastfeeding than ever. While these numbers are as high as seventy-five percent, and the National Conference of State Legislatures notes that President Obama’s Healthy People 2020 initiative includes the goal of increasing breastfed babies to 81.9% by the year 2020.
Why the breast is best:
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the government began pushing breastfeeding in the late nineteenth century. At this time around twenty percent of babies in cities such as Chicago were dying before their first birthday. When doctors looked into this epidemic, they found that of these babies, as much as half were dying from complications due to diarrhea. Doctors linked these deaths to the underprocessed and often spoiled dairy that was replacing a mother’s breast milk. At its worst, surveys found that as many as fifteen dairy-fed babies were dying for every one breastfed baby. As a result, the government began pushing literature and research to inform parents of the benefits of breastfeeding.
Even though today’s dairy is much safer, the NCBI explains that the government continues to publish information supporting breastfeeding. Their studies continue to suggest that the benefits of breastfeeding start in infancy, and continue through childhood. While breastfeeding has been linked to a reduction in diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, meningitis in infants, it is also linked to a reduction in obesity, leukemia, and asthma in children. Breastfed babies are also less likely to succumb to sudden infant death syndrome and even have been shown to develop a higher IQ. And it’s not just good for the babies: women who prolonged breastfeeding are slightly less likely to develop breast cancer. However, the NCBI holds that the greatest benefits were found in cases with “prolonged breastfeeding.” Although more moms are breastfeeding, about seventy-five percent in 2009, the report by the Center for Disease Control also shows that by six months, less than half are breastfeeding. By one year after the birth, less than a quarter of infants are breastfed. And some places score higher than others; while ninety percent of Washington mothers breastfeed, less than half do so in Mississippi.
Crying over spilled milk:
One reason for this is that the laws that protect breastfeeding mothers are inconsistent. Although there is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, not all states protect a mother’s legal rights to breastfeed in public. The National Conference of State Legislatures lists states that provide specific protections and privileges. Mississippi, for instance, requires that daycare faculty be trained in the handling of human milk. Californian hospitals are required to offer breastfeeding instruction immediately after birth. The NCSL also lists the forty-five states that specifically protect a woman’s legal right to breastfeed. (The five remaining states are Idaho, Michigan, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia, although Virginians are protected anywhere on state property). Sadly, however, despite legal protection available in most states, only twenty-eight states exempt breastfeeding from public indecency (Facebook will also remove photos of breastfeeding mothers), only twelve states exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty, and perhaps saddest of all, only five states have an active breastfeeding awareness campaign.
Become a “lactivist”: From ta-ta to Rah-Rah
This is particularly saddening because in addition to the legal complications of breastfeeding, mothers must deal with the social stigma. While some people are understandably uncomfortable with the sight, others have become uncomfortable with the very idea. And when this becomes the case, mothers are often criticized for breastfeeding, despite the fact that it is the best option for their baby. The New York times reported one example of this in 2005, when on The View, Barbara Walters recounted an uncomfortable experience on an airplane where she was seated next to a breastfeeding mother that had no better option. ABC reported another case in 2011, when a breastfeeding Target shopper was asked to leave. While some viewers sympathized with Target and Walters, more and more men and women are standing up to the stigma. Anyone can support the movement, and if you are currently breastfeeding, you can find (and join) these so-called “lactivists” by taking part in a “nurse-in,” a public protest staged by nursing mothers like the ones that, thanks to lactivists nationwide, brought national attention to the incidents at Target and The View.