As a nurse for more than 10 years, I have spent my career caring for pregnant and laboring women, mothers and their babies. What I have seen is that the time after childbirth is important for bonding, establishing breastfeeding and healing.
Yet the magazine In These Times reports that one in four American women returns to work within two weeks of childbirth. This is not enough time.
It is heartbreaking working with a mother, planning her discharge from the hospital and watching her struggle to make arrangements quickly to return to work. She tells me she will lose her job if she doesn’t return almost immediately.
Nurses recommend family medical leave policies that provide women with paid maternity leave for the first six months of their infants’ lives, and flexible work schedules during the next six months. Encouraging and facilitating breastfeeding is the chief reason for this recommendation.
Breastfed babies have a reduced risk for a number of infections, hospital readmission and sudden infant death syndrome. As they grow older, they have reduced risk of asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and sleep disordered breathing. Breastfeeding also is associated with increased cognition and neurodevelopment.
Mothers who breastfeed have less blood loss following delivery, lower risk of infection and greater weight loss. And as time passes, they experience a reduced risk of breast cancer, type II diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Despite the health benefits, too many women are forced to return to work when they are just learning to breastfeed and their bodies are still healing; this is especially true for the one in three American women who has a Cesarean.
Paid maternity leave for all women would allow women and children the time to establish breastfeeding and reap its benefits.
Businesses can benefit, too. Research suggests that employers receive a $3 return for every $1 invested in a lactation program. Breastfeeding-friendly employers have lower turnover rates, less absenteeism and lower health insurance claims.
South Carolina families deserve more. California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York have established state systems. I urge our lawmakers to pass paid family leave.
Ashley N. Locklear