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The Daily Need

Want to lose weight fast? Try breastfeeding!

Want to lose weight fast?

A new advertisement promotes breastfeeding as a way to drop a few jeans sizes.

The benefits of breastfeeding — including higher IQs, lower rates of infection, and reduced risk of obesity and heart disease later in life for the child, as well as reduced risk of breast cancer, and yes, accelerated postpartum weight loss for the mother — are well documented. And government efforts to promote breastfeeding are nothing new: In 1978, the U.S. government set the goal of increasing “to at least 75 percent the proportion of mothers who exclusively or partially breastfeed their babies in the early postpartum period and to at least 50 percent the proportion who continue to breastfeed until their babies are 5 to 6 months old.”

The jean-size ad is a great attention grabber, and the immediacy and tangibility of postpartum weight loss might be more convincing to some than the abstract promise of higher IQs and lower rates of heart disease later in the baby’s life. The ad is part of a $1.6 million, two-month campaign sponsored by the New York State Department of Health and targeted at lower-income women, who, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are less likely to breastfeed than other mothers. (Though culture might play a bigger role than income: Latina women, with roots in countries where breastfeeding is more prevalent, are actually the most likely to breastfeed, while African-American women, for a complex set of reasons including a history of black domestic servants serving as wet nurses and a lingering perception of formula as a sign of prestige, are the least). The campaign also includes spots about the health benefits of breastfeeding.

Educational campaigns like this one seem to be helping. According to the most recent CDC data, 75 percent of American women now initiate breastfeeding, equaling the goal set back in 1978. But the number of mothers who are still exclusively breastfeeding after six months is staggeringly low and stagnant, hovering at around 10 percent.

As a new working mom, I suspect I know why.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life, and in combination with other foods until their first birthday. But under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), women are guaranteed only 12 weeks off from work after the birth of a child, unpaid. Paid maternity leave is simply a benefit that some companies offer, not a right like it is in almost every other industrialized country (the one exception is Australia, where the mandated maternity leave is unpaid but lasts a full year as opposed to 12 weeks).

This means that if a new mother follows all the rules set forth by the powers that be, she’ll be pumping breast milk at work for up to nine months. As anyone who has tried it knows, this is not a reasonable proposition. Pumping is physically uncomfortable and incredibly time consuming. The new heath care bill stipulates that employers must provide a private space other than a bathroom for new mothers to pump milk, but that only applies to companies with 50 employees or more, and isn’t always practical. What if you’re a bus driver, or a real estate agent?

The company that I work for provides a decent space, which I refer to as “the lactation lounge,” but as a journalist, I’m not always in the office. In the months since I’ve been back at work I’ve pumped milk for my son 1) behind the wheel of a car on the way back from a shoot in Albany — with my intern in the passenger’s seat, 2) in the bathroom at the Metropolitan Club during an event associated with the U.N. General Assembly, while female dignitaries fixed their hair and make-up on the other side of the stall door, 3) in a room without a lock on the door somewhere in upstate New York — and yes, someone walked in — an elderly man who quickly averted his eyes and slammed the door behind himself. These incidents may sound funny now, but they were deeply awkward experiences, and everyone I know who has pumped on the job has had them. A friend from college, now a teacher, used to pump milk in a broom closet adjacent to the school library and had more than one elementary school student walk in on her.

This started out as a post about a funny television commercial and seems to have turned into an argument for longer maternity leave and against pumping. I’m not sure that’s what I meant to do. There are certainly other possible solutions, such as flexible work hours, on-site daycare centers where employees can visit their babies during the day, and more public “lactation lounges” (I actually found a designated lactation room next to the handicapped bathroom at a mall in Queens recently, but that’s the only place I’ve ever seen such a thing). But there’s one thing I’m sure of: our society is not set up to support breastfeeding, and until that changes, no brilliant advertising or educational campaign is going to solve the problem.


  • Terryfsilverman

    My daughter pumps for my grandson in a lactation room, as well. She works long hours and has a nanny which is extremely expensive. I give her all the credit in the world for being so dedicated but it isn’t easy being a working mom!!! The baby will be one years old soon and she will begin to slowly wean him.

  • Tg681

    Just one more example of how the “woman’s movement” screwed women by telling them they can have it all. Yes, they can….but not without much sacrifice. So they need to stop complaining and make their choices and stop demanding that others make it easy for them.

  • Melindatoumi

    I pump, so what? I would never stay home for an entire year. I’m ready after a few weeks to go back… but I’m fortunate enough to have a job that I can take two 25 minute breaks a day to pump. Not everyone can!

  • Anonymous

    I’m pro-boobies!!

  • Muslim

    34 Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband’s property). As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great.
    35 If you fear a breach between them twain (the man and his wife), appoint (two) arbitrators, one from his family and the other from her’s; if they both wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation. Indeed Allah is Ever All-Knower, Well-Acquainted with all things.
    ( سورة النساء , An-Nisa, Chapter #4, Verse #34-35)

    Men are the maintainers and protectors of women.

    In Islam the duty to provide for the household is upon the husband, not the wife. If the wife gets some money, that is supposed to be pocket money for her to spend in the way she likes.

    The duty of providing for the household is put upon the man. You are fast learning the complications of women in the workforce.

    Shall you task a woman with the responsibility of a job while she is pregnant and stress has effects upon the child?
    Shall you task a woman with going out to work while she has children to look after?

    For women without children, shall you task them with going out to work in environments of stress?

    Allah knows best what physiological damage the rigors of the working world have on women, an environment where testosterone is required.

    Instead of adhering to the principle existing in nature for the male to go and be tasked with providing for the family, you put the woman in complications.

    This secular, liberal system is showing the deficiencies inherent in it.

    Now shall you enact laws wherein women are allowed and protected by force of police to bear breasts in public and have children suckle where all can see?

    Decency is departing from thee.

    The notion of “Working mom”, instead of it being seen for what it is is touted as women with children and that still have the stamina to handle the rigors of the working world. It is deception and a deception for which the body of the woman and the upbringing of the children are expected to suffer.

  • Srowley2

    The punishment philosophy, which is so prevalent today is what is going to take our civilization down. Cooperation really works better.Getting even with evrybody else just dimished us all.

  • Rosenva

    I’m calling BS on this line: “As anyone who has tried it knows, this is not a reasonable proposition. Pumping is physically uncomfortable and incredibly time consuming.”

    Yes, we do NOT have a pro-breastfeeding society, nor do we have a breast-feeding culture at work. Deal. No change comes without action. If you choose not to pump or breastfeed because the politicians haven’t made it easy enough for you, that’s your own fault.

    I pumped in my office at work, in the car (although not while driving- that’s just not smart), in bathrooms, at friends’ houses, in hotels, in storage rooms, and at airports. It was NOT physically uncomfortable, it was sometime emotionally uncomfortable, and I’m sorry if you find that “unreasonable”… I felt it was my job as a Mom to feed my baby the absolute best possible food, and if that meant getting my feelings a little bruised now and then, ok.

    It’s not easy being a working, pumping Mom, but if it’s important to you and you are willing to stand up as a valued employee and communicate with your employer about “reasonable” plans for your break time along with statistics about the mutual benefits (ie. how much less sick baby time breastfeeding Moms take off) you CAN make it work. If we sit back and wait for employers to magically hand us extra breaks, clean, comfortable rooms, fridges and sinks, we’ll be sitting around whining for a long time….

  • Scohn

    The “woman’s movement” did NOT say to women “You can have it all”, rather “You can choose from anything you are capable of. No one should say to you ‘NO’ simply because you are a woman”.

  • Jana

    as I teacher I can pretty much say that it is nearly impossible to pump and work. I barely get a lunch long enough to go to the bathroom. And privacy to pump is another issue- unless I want to sit in the bathroom and (try) to find an outlet to plug in an electric pump, (eew- I don’t want to eat in the bathroom, why would I want to pump?). There was one teacher I worked with that would go out to her car once a day to pump under a blanket. That takes a whole lot of dedication, since most teachers I know use at least part of their lunch to make copies, supervise children, etc. It is sad that a profession that is all about children makes it so difficult to breastfeed!

  • empathy-tryit

    It’s sad that we feel the need to tell women to “suck it up” when trying to do the right thing for their children. The appropriate reaction to experiencing difficulty is not to hope someone gets it worse somewhere down the line, but to work to make things better for everyone.

  • Ralphie

    Unfortunately, the science doesn’t support this theory. Older information, from 1997, 1998 promulgated this idea, but more recent information, such as:
    finds that it is not true.

  • FormulaFeeder

    Excellent essay. I recently shot a small documentary about infant feeding choices ( and several of the women I interviewed talked about this dilemma. Pumping is not easy for those in service positions (one of the women worked at Starbucks, and told me the only place she could possibly pump during her shift was in the small storeroom/kitchen that had no privacy, otherwise she’d have to occupy the one bathroom for 20 minutes; she also would miss out on tips when she was on pump breaks), for example.

    As some previous comments have stated, maybe women can’t “have it all”. But public health campaigns (based on shaky science – the obesity/breastfeeding and IQ/breastfeeding links are by no means “well documented” – there are ample studies that have shown a non-statistically significant correlation, along with the few observational ones that do show a small statistical advantage) that guilt-trip or scare women into nursing when they don’t have the right support or workplace environment are just bad for everyone.

  • cd

    I’m a pumping mom who doesn’t respond well to the pump, so it takes me up to 8 pumping sessions per day (one per hour) to gather enough milk – sorta – for my kid’s next day. I am very fortunate to have an office with a door and an understanding boss.

    It is NOT wrong to demand policy changes to give women more options when it comes to feeding their offspring. All elected officials have or had mothers – they should be willing to work on policy changes. Women should do it for other women – whether they have kids themselves or not – and men should do it for their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters. But we don’t expect them to and we don’t ask them to. This gets relegated to a niche interest – a women’s issue. Except it isn’t a women’s issue because there are also boy babies who need to eat.

    We should stop yelling at each other for nursing or bottle feeding or whatever we choose to do and focuse on the forces that block true choice for women.

    Why don’t we have human milk banks that offer services to more than just he most direly sick infants? Why do we accept an unpaid 12 weeks as something we should be grateful for?

    Cowgirl up and demand more from your public policy.

  • Amy – Medela Breast Pump Blog

    I just read that a lack of breast feeding costs thousands of lives and billions of dollars!””

    The weight loss argument is good but i think the mental benefits should be shouted about more. Breast feeding creates an amazing parent child bond. I would not have had it any other way.

  • ibclc1016

    I think it’s great that you began this article to showcase a PSA campaign, & came to the conclusion that better paid family leave policies are needed. It is unfortunate that women & families must choose between a healthy start for baby & working (thereby providing an inferior start). I am not talking about those women that are itching to get back to work after only a few weeks. Or the women that understand the risks associated with not breastfeeding & confidently choose not to breastfeed. I am talking about fostering an environment & culture that supports breastfeeding & recognizes it as the norm (which it is, formula is the biology experiment), so that women do not have to choose, & then feel guilty about that “choice”. What is more, the low-income populations that these ads target, are less likely to have the supportive worksites or paid leave that are mentioned above. In addition to this, these populations are also at a higher risk of suffering from the various health conditions that have been shown to be exacerbated by NOT breastfeeding (diabetes, obesity, etc). Other industrialized nations provide paid maternity leave & don’t provide free formula. The US has it backwards.

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  • Jennifer Lopez

    Im 22 years old 140lbs and 5 foot 3 i just had my second baby and i need
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  • granite

    It might be natural, but it’s not easy up front.  Get a professional or at least dedicated experienced breastfeeding coach lined up in advance.  They really need to study why mothers start with the desire, and end up giving up. 

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