Too many parents are faced with the difficult choice between earning an income and caring for their newborns. As National Breastfeeding Month 2018 comes to a close, it is important to consider barriers that new parents face to nursing their infant and what opportunities exist to better support new parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive nursing for the first six months of an infant’s life, followed by nursing that is supplemented with complementary foods for an additional six months. However, data from the CDC show that only 25 percent of infants are nursed exclusively for the first six months and only 36 percent are nursed at 12 months of age.
Despite overwhelming evidence demonstrating the short- and long-term benefits of nursing for both parents and infants, families can face tremendous barriers to adhering to the recommendations. These include challenges with lactation, poor social supports, barriers to health services, limited knowledge of the benefits of nursing, embarrassment, and challenges relating to employment and child care. It is also important to recognize that many new parents are unable to nurse their infant for reasons that include medical conditions and contra-indications, situations of foster care or adoption, cases where caregivers are not the birthing parent, and more.
The trade-off families face between nursing their infant and earning an income reflects the lack of options that exist for many working families. The only federal protections for new parents is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave and job protection for eligible employees who need time off to recover from childbirth or personal medical crisis, or care for a seriously ill loved one. However, a staggering 41 percent of American workers did not have access to, or were ineligible for, FMLA in 2012. Read more