Although the act of breastfeeding is not “illegal,” women in various parts of the U.S. can be arrested for “public indecency” when breastfeeding their baby in public. As of November 2005, 12 states and Washington, DC had not enacted at least some kind of law regarding breastfeeding.
The U.S. Healthy People 2010 target is to increase the proportion of mothers who choose to breastfeed their babies for at least six months to 50%; the World Health Organization recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first six months. However, these goals may be difficult to meet since some mothers in the U.S. face challenges to breastfeeding. Many women view their return to work as a cause for ending their breastfeeding regime early. Even women who use a breast pump require 30 minutes of privacy each workday to expel breast milk. In the May issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, a commentary by Dr. Tonse Raju from the National Institutes of Health reflects on the continued barriers for breastfeeding mothers.
Most industrialized nations guarantee maternity leave for up to 16 weeks at 75-100% of pay. Norway exceeds that by providing up to 42 weeks of maternity leave with full pay or 52 weeks with 80% pay. The U.S., however, allows a woman 12 weeks of unpaid leave, without the risk of losing her job, during any 12-month period. Allowing new mothers more time off work may encourage the continuation of breastfeeding, potentially minimizing societal limitations. Although it might be difficult to enact a policy similar to that of Norway, the U.S. should consider what is needed to support women who choose to breastfeed.
Monica Helton | alfa
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