August is National Breastfeeding Month, a time dedicated to spreading the word on the benefits, resources, and legal protections concerning breastfeeding. This is especially important as rates of breastfeeding increase across the United States, alongside equally-rising rates of barriers and discrimination. As of 2016, in Pennsylvania, 73.1% of mothers reported breastfeeding.
A report out of the University of California Hastings College of Law found breastfeeding discrimination at the workplace (like denying time to pump or unsanitary/unsafe lactation environments) has resulted in loss of employment, economic strains, and even harassment. The stigma surrounding breastfeeding can even affect mothers’ mental health; mothers cite being stressed over what harassment could happen, or cite embarrassment due to lack of knowledge or poor social support[1,4]. Clearly, this stigma carries many lasting effects on the health and economic stability of families.
What does the science say on breastfeeding?
The science indicates many positive effects of breastfeeding both for the baby and mother. Infants need a greater amount of calories, proteins, and other nutrients relative to body size compared to adults in order to support their growth and development[5,6].
Infants up to 3 months need 49 calories per pound per day, which would equate 5,880 calories for a 120-pound adult! Breastfeeding meets all of these nutritional demands. The chart on the right shows the nutrients in breastmilk, including unsaturated fats (healthy fats which aid brain development), important proteins for development, immunoglobulin A and G (immune cells that help the baby build their immune system and protect against infections), and minerals (important for infant development).
The benefits of breastfeeding for mothers are plentiful, including reducing risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, breast and ovarian cancers, and it can even speed up healing after childbirth[3,5,6].
How does the law prevent breastfeeding stigma and discrimination?
The law acknowledges these benefits by offering publicly-funded services, resources, and employment protections. Many mothers are unaware that 47 states allow women to breastfeed anywhere and are exempt from indecency laws.
Pennsylvania’s Freedom to Breastfeed Act recognizes that breastfeeding is a basic act of supporting an infant’s development, and as such, mandates that mothers be allowed to breastfeed in public without the need to cover up. Additionally, across the U.S., if a mother’s employer is covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act, they must accommodate time and space for a mother to pump breastmilk.
Where can I find resources on breastfeeding?
With the science and legal protections established, how do we ensure new and expecting mothers gain access to the knowledge and resources to effectively breastfeed? The Penn State College of Medicine’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) is a team dedicated to bettering the lives of central Pennsylvanians by kickstarting initiatives like vaccination education, physical activity promotion, and breastfeeding awareness. REACH partners with organizations committed to these action areas, like Lebanon Family Health Services (LFHS) in downtown Lebanon, PA. LFHS is a participating Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program site, where they offer breastfeeding support groups, education on pre/postnatal care, free blankets/bibs, and even vouchers to receive farm-fresh fruits and vegetables as part of the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.
Beyond central Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health has a wealth of online resources like scientific articles about breastfeeding benefits, contact information for breastfeeding clinics across PA, and even locations for licensed human milk banks[10,11]. Additionally, you can find information for accessing WIC, its guidelines, and participating store locations across the state. Of course, on a nationwide level, vast resources exist on breastfeeding awareness, including resources to reduce incidences of breastfeeding discrimination and harassment in the workplace[12,13].