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World Breastfeeding Week 2015: let’s support working moms!

The week of August 1-7 marks World Breastfeeding Week 2015. Every year has a different theme, and this year’s is “Breastfeeding and work: Let’s make it work!” I think focusing on supporting employed breastfeeding mothers is a great idea, and here’s why. 

In the United States, we lead the world in lots of things. We have great colleges, advanced industries, and a host of other reasons to be proud of our country. But have you wondered how we stack up against other nations when it comes to paid maternity leave? And how about policies that give women protected time to pump at work?

African countries like Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan — countries more well-known for their issues with female genital mutilation, internal warfare that employs the use of child soldiers, and constant political strife — are actually amazing when it comes to providing paid maternity leave and protected time for breastfeeding moms.

For example, Somalian mothers have 14 weeks of nationally mandated, paid maternity leave to use. They also get paid breaks to pump or nurse at work — up to two hours a day is protected for this until their children are 12 months old. That is amazing!

The United States, however, is a totally different story. Federally regulated, paid maternity leave? No such luck here. Sure, a woman can take up to 12 weeks off for maternity leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (better known as FMLA), but she has to work for an employer for at least 12 months and her job has to meet certain criteria to qualify for this.

What about a federal law guaranteeing that a woman will get paid, protected time to breastfeed or pump at work? Again, those benefits don’t exist in our country. While women do have some legal rights, when it comes to having access to a space to pump and time to do so, again there are limitations and these pumping breaks (are they really a break?!) are unpaid.

So here we are, asking women to exclusively breastfeed for six months and continue for at least a year, and yet we expect these moms to return to work when their babies are 6 weeks old – just barely long enough to allow breastfeeding to get established, let alone for mothers to become totally confident in mastering the juggling act of pumping at work. We also don’t give these moms the peace of mind of knowing they have a guaranteed, unaffected income while they are on maternity leave or when they return to work and need to pump.

We might be a great country, but we are sending a less than stellar message to our new mothers and their babies when you take into account facts like these. This is why World Breastfeeding Week is so important, and especially this year’s theme.

If you’d like to read more information about World Breastfeeding Week, you’ll find some great resources here and here. And the next mom you see who is persevering and pumping at work, realize that during her pump breaks, she is doing one of the most important jobs of all: working hard to nourish her baby. Be sure to show her some support!

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About Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Bundoo OB/GYN

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln is a board-certified generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician in Portland, Oregon. She primarily works on labor and delivery and has recently been certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

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