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https://www.mother.ly/life/breastfeeding-inequality

There’s a lot to love about breastfeeding. It’s a healthy, free source of nutrients for a baby, and keeping your little one close while they feed facilitates a beautiful early bond. For some mothers, however, the choice to breastfeed—or not—is one that’s fraught with guilt and frustration.

What often gets missed in the emotionally-charged dialogue surrounding breastfeeding is that opportunities to nurse aren’t equally available to all mothers. In fact, socioeconomic factors can profoundly impact a mom’s ability to breastfeed.

Many of the broad social and economic factors impacting individuals and communities worldwide have specific implications that impact equal access to breastfeeding for many potential nursing mothers, such as poverty, hunger, limited health care and education opportunities, as well as economic downturns, poor job quality and limited job growth.

These barriers to entry are referred to by advocates as breastfeeding inequality. August is National Breastfeeding Month, and understanding just how deeply these issues impact successful breastfeeding for women warrants a closer look.


Income inequality is tied to breastfeeding inequality

It’s easy to imagine the ways that being wealthy might make it easier to breastfeed—from being able to afford a private lactation consultant to being able to take time off from work to establish breastfeeding—but individual wealth is no guarantee that breastfeeding will be easy. That said, the actual statistics on nursing among women living below the poverty line make it clear that breastfeeding inequality is directly tied to income inequality.

While 68% of wealthy moms are still breastfeeding when the baby reaches 6 months old, only 38% of mothers below the poverty line are still doing so. This is quite a significant gap.

This gap widens in regions where economic downturn and poverty are especially prevalent, creating an even greater burden for prospective breastfeeding mothers. Wealthier states like California, Oregon and Washington have breastfeeding rates over 90%, while poorer states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana breastfeed at rates between 61-57%. The national average is 79%.

Educational opportunity is tied to breastfeeding inequality

Education is also an important piece of the breastfeeding inequality puzzle. As it follows, the better an education a mother receives, the more likely she is to eventually find employment offering a livable wage and benefits like paid maternity leave. However, if mom is from a low income family or area, her chances of enrolling in higher education drop—by a lot. In 2016, 78% of college-age students from the highest economic bracket were enrolled in college, compared to 28% of those whose parents were in the lowest income bracket. And while 56% of mothers with advanced degrees breastfeed their babies for at least three months, only 36% of those who state their educational level as ‘high school’ do the same.

So, why do these differences have such a profound impact on a woman’s ability to successfully breastfeed?

  • Lack of good jobs and maternity support in the workplace: For many mothers, access to a period of paid maternity leave can mean the difference between breastfeeding their baby and being unable to create a successful nursing routine. In America, the Affordable Care Act demands a dedicated non-bathroom space for mothers to nurse as well as adequate breaks to do so, but there’s language in the bill that leaves room for unethical employers to skirt the requirements.
  • No community education and support: Supportive and educational groups for moms can make a big difference in helping a new mother feel secure in her efforts to breastfeed, but they’re often run by higher income hospitals and organizations that aren’t present in low-income communities.
  • Lack of lactation support in hospital: While hospitals in high-income areas and with Baby-Friendly designations offer lactation consultants, they may be stretched thin, and if a mom’s time in her room doesn’t coincide with a consultant’s availability, she may leave the hospital without ever receiving help.

Creating equal opportunities for women who choose to breastfeed

If these statistics don’t sit right with you, you’re far from alone.

Organizations like the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, La Leche League and other supporters of breastfeeding are constantly promoting legislation to help protect the rights of nursing mothers, while creating awareness of the systemic issues that suppress a mom’s right to accessible breastfeeding. Awareness campaigns like National Breastfeeding Month, World Breastfeeding Week (annually the first week of August) and Black Breastfeeding Week (annually the last week of August) are opportunities for all women to help amplify the message about breastfeeding inequality, and advocate better access and opportunities for all women who choose to breastfeed.

There’s a lot of work to be done in order to close these gaps, end the endless debate over breast and bottle and give every mother the right to choose breastfeeding if she so desires. These focus points are key to the cause:

More lactation support in hospitals: Better lactation support in hospital plays a fundamental role in successful early breastfeeding. The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, a UN/WHO program, offers education and support to new mothers as they learn to breastfeed. Improving lactation support in hospitals also means continuing education on the social and practical aspects of breastfeeding for professionals like midwives, nurses and doctors.

Accessible lactation support and education, both professionally and from peers: Professional lactation support as provided by groups, in-person clinic visits, in-home consultations or even online can provide resources and relief for mothers who may be struggling with breastfeeding. Support groups of peers, often led or formed by maternity-focused clinics and organizations, can also offer helpful feedback and guidance as well as essential emotional support.

Support for breastfeeding moms, both from workplaces and childcare centers: For employers, offering support requires moving beyond meeting bare minimum legal requirements when making provisions for new and nursing mothers in the workplace. Enacting proactive policies that support and protect mothers as well as offering comfortable lactation rooms and flexible breaks is key. In a childcare setting, learning the proper storage and handling of breast milk and allowing a mother to come and breastfeed is key.

If you’re eager to learn more about breastfeeding inequality, this informative visualization has some powerful statistics to share, so read on.

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A love letter to my boobs 💓

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Posted on: August 7, 2020

https://www.mother.ly/life/love-letter-to-my-boobs

Dear Boobs,

What a wild ride it’s been, huh? We’ve been through so much in my 37 years of life and yet I never took the time to stop and thank you for all that you’ve done and for everything we’ve been through together.

I remember when I was about 11 years old, riding in the backseat of the car looking out the window (this was in the ’80s, we weren’t great with seat belts then) and feeling pain on my chest. I told my mom, shyly, thinking something was really wrong with me, she panicked and took me to the doctor the next morning. “Her breasts are developing,” he said with a tone in his voice that almost seemed to mock both of us for not realizing that, well, my boobs were growing.


I remember that summer not wanting to take my t-shirt off because I was ashamed of how you looked. Kind of there but not really. Suddenly causing attention in a way I did not want nor did I know what to do with. You, dear boobs, made me feel uncomfortable and I wasn’t a fan of you.

I remember that quickly changed in high school—my not-so-big but also not-so-small breasts made it easy for me to buy clothes, wear bikinis and also get the attention of the boy I liked. I remember the first time he touched you over a shirt, feeling so adult and also so not ready for anything.

I remember when in college I thought you were suddenly way too small and all I wanted was to get implants. I insisted that was what I wanted to my parents, when really I was following my friends, all who had done it before me for very different reasons. I hate pain, I hate needles, I didn’t really want to go through surgery but everything around me was telling me that I needed you to be bigger.

I remember how, in an act of rebellion, I got my nipples pierced. Something many, many years later would cause issues with breastfeeding my first baby. But how was I supposed to know that? Or even think about it? Back then I didn’t think I would meet anyone who could put up with me or keep up with me enough to get married, let alone have children. My piercings were my pride for a decade, something very few knew were there, my way of making my boobs different to others. Maybe more memorable?

I remember my first pregnancy, how suddenly no bras fit and blue veins covered my chest, almost like rivers of blood filling up my breasts which were soon going to become essential in my baby’s life (or so I thought). I remember how my coworker commented on them, making me feel so disgusted, so used. I was carrying life but I was still being sexualized and harassed, because it never stops. It made me feel 11 years old again when those stares began.


I remember giving birth—in a way that I didn’t expect—and having a tiny slippery baby laid on my chest. I could barely breathe afraid of him falling off. He latched onto you, and we all thought he was a champ at breastfeeding, except he was not. Days and weeks went by with poor weight gain and I started to feel like a failure, like you boobs were failing me in my most important role in life. Defeated, I started pumping and bottle feeding my skinny baby and soon he was chunky and happy, just like he is now years later.

I remember being engorged, leaking, milk stains all over my shirts and bras. I remember being in love with your new quality and at the same time being constantly uncomfortable by it.

I remember hating being attached to the pump for hours a day. The bzz bzz bzz of the motor getting on my nerves. Not realizing that my body, again, was part of something so surreal and magical, I was making milk. Until I wasn’t anymore and we switched to formula and I felt like myself again. I had my body back.

I remember finding out I was pregnant with twins and sighing because I was not going to be able to breastfeed again, I knew I didn’t have it in me to feed two babies for hours on end without any extra help (thanks, global pandemic). So here we are, attached to the pump again, seeing these two little girls eat what my body produces, still in total disbelief that we (you and me, boobs) were able to do all of this.

I remember going to the beach for the first time, my favorite activity ever, and seeing how deflated you looked. Stretch marks covered what used to be perky smooth skin, a reminder of the huge sacrifices I’ve made with my body in order to create and support my three children.

So dear boobs, thank you.

Thank you for putting up with me all these years.

Thank you for supporting me in such monumental changes in my life.

Thank you for providing nourishment to my children for as long as you can (no pressure, I’m ready to stop when you are) and I’m sorry I ever wanted to change you. I didn’t realize until now how special you both are.