Most moms have a hard time taking needed maternity leave to recuperate, feed and bond with their new babies. Yet, it turns out that longer leave improves breastfeeding success. And, even more suprising, taking leave before babies are born also matters. But U.S. policy does little to help women before or after birthing their babies.
According to a study released last week and funded by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, women who worked right up until delivery day were four times more likely to have a cesarean section.
As a homebirthing mom, you might imagine that I’m on that “do-everything-you-can-to-avoid-surgery” side of the fence. And yes, I took three weeks off before birthing both my babies at home. However, it’s about more than just avoiding surgery–I wanted to create optimal environments for supporting the breastfeeding relationship with my babies. And now studies have confirmed that taking time off after birth, but also BEFORE birth can help.
It never ceases to amaze me how an increasing number of studies continue to show the benefits of breast milk over substitutes for mothers, babies and the health care system overall. And yet, U.S. government policies do not support this relationship. The U.S. is one of the five worst industrialized countries in terms of maternity benefits. (The U.S. is also way behind when it comes to overall maternity care, but that’s a blog for another day…)
The study cited above also reported that the longer a mother delays returning to work, the more likely it is that she’ll nurse her baby. It’s quite obvious to me, a nursing mom, why this is: It’s a freaking pain in the *$$ to manage breastfeeding while away from your baby. “Pumping moms” are super-heroes! But in a society just beginning to relearn the value of this particular bodily art, a lot of people don’t understand this. Pumping breast milk takes longer, is uncomfortable, and most importantly, makes it harder to maintain an adequate milk supply for the growing baby.
We need paid maternity leave. At least six months of it. If we should exclusively nurse a baby until six months old for optimal health, we need paid maternity leave to cover it. Currently, 128 countries provide paid and job-protected childbirth-related leave. It’s time for the U.S. to step up to the plate.