A new study on breastfeeding published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday finds that if 90 percent of U.S. women fed their babies breast milk exclusively for the first six months, nearly 900 babies lives’ would be saved every year.
The findings, as reported by the Associated Press, suggest that breastfeeding may help prevent certain illnesses like stomach viruses, ear infections, asthma, juvenile diabetes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and even childhood leukemia. While breastfeeding has been considered a lifestyle issue, the lead author of the study, Dr. Melissa Bartick of Harvard Medical School, says it should actually be considered more like a public health issue. Breast-milk contains antibodies that help infants fight infections until they receive their vaccinations, and it affects insulin levels in the blood, which make breast-fed babies less likely to develop diabetes and obesity later in life.
“The health care system has got to be aware that breast-feeding makes a profound difference,” said Dr. Ruth Lawrence, who heads the American Academy of Pediatrics’ breast-feeding section.
About 43 percent of mothers in the U.S. breastfeed some of the time for six months, which is a marked improvement from a decade ago. However, only 12 percent breastfeed exclusively for six months.
This may be because although new moms may decide they want to breastfeed, many find it difficult to continue doing so once they return to work. There may be several reasons for this—inflexible work schedules, lack of proper facilities, or lack of proper support for breastfeeding from management.
Corporate Voices for Working Families believes that breastfeeding is not only good for families, it is good for business. We have published practical toolkits that provide employers and workers with guides to implement and request a breastfeeding program. In addition to increasing employee morale, engagement, and loyalty to a company, offering help to new mothers who want to breastfeed when they return to work has proven to reduce the amount of sick days taken. This helps increase business productivity and keeps medical costs down.
While outreach to the business community is one aspect of Corporate Voices’ work on lactation, so is outreach to the WIC community and to working moms with hourly positions. To this end, Corporate Voices will host a brunch discussion during the National WIC Association’s Annual Conference in Milwaukee, WI on May 2 to learn from WIC directors about what successes and challenges they have had with helping their clients to breastfeed at work. We also look forward to getting their feedback on policy recommendations to support breastfeeding in the workplace.
Overcoming obstacles to breastfeeding at work may do a great deal to help increase the exclusive breastfeeding rate, improve infant health, and also improve workplace productivity and engagement.