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Protecting Babies? or Protecting Moms?

The mothers who come to MilkWorks live in an incredible time. Never before have women had the opportunity to wear so many hats. Whether in the college classroom, the work place, the community, or the home, women are doing incredible things with their lives. But wearing so many hats can be a heavy load.

When we marched for equal rights in the mid-20th century, we did not realize how important paid maternity leave would be for the burgeoning rights of women. As the US Surgeon General began to advocate for a return to breastfeeding in the early 21st century, we also did not think how breastfeeding would make the lives of busy women more stressful.

Despite laws protecting pumping in the workplace and creative new work solutions, breastfeeding with no paid maternity leave is hard. Particularly when coupled with a lack of breastfeeding support. Mothers in Lincoln and Omaha have so much more breastfeeding support than the vast majority of cities in the U.S. But not all mothers in Lincoln and Omaha have an easy time accessing support.

Breastfeeding is downright hard for many mothers, and when it is coupled with a lack of support and too many hats, it is very hard to see the benefit for mothers. But there are many, and they are big.
Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, PhD, IBCLC, editor of Clinical Lactation describes them clearly:

  • During pregnancy, mothers enter a temporary state of metabolic syndrome which is necessary to sustain a pregnancy. However, this is not a state that we want women to continue once their baby is born. Breastfeeding resets a mother’s metabolism. When this does not happen, mothers develop a higher risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the number one killer of women in the U.S.

  • The human stress response is meant to be short term. Chronic stress puts women at risk for depression and a wide range of health problems. Breastfeeding turns off the stress response, lowers the inflammatory response, and decreases the risk of depression. If depression is pre-existing, breastfeeding helps a mother to cope.

  • It is hard to believe this, but several studies confirm than breastfeeding increases the quality and quantity of a mother’s sleep. We know that increased sleep results in lower rates of depression.

  • When breastfeeding is going well, oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) is upregulated. This helps moms cope with the “not-too-fun” tasks of motherhood. It also helps moms overcome past trauma. According to Kendall-Tackett, this may be the most important reason for many women to breastfeed.

While we have necessary laws that prohibit discrimination in the work force, these laws often complicate candid, honest discussions about pregnancy, breastfeeding and maternity leaves. Employers often feel blind-sided when a new employee becomes pregnant, and women often fear sharing a pregnancy with their employer. The end result is a less supportive environment.

If the only purpose of a paid maternity leave is to help our babies get breastfed, it is a worthy movement for the health of new moms. And one that is long overdue.

All employers, including MilkWorks, need to care about health care costs, and a healthy thriving community, which includes the mothers (and fathers) who wear too many hats. Paid maternity leave is an investment we cannot afford to ignore.