All women don’t have an equal opportunity to breastfeed—that needs to change

Can we make breastfeeding an equal possibility for all women who choose to do it?

breastfeeding inequality

There's a lot to love about breastfeeding. It's a healthy, free source of nutrients for a baby, and keeping your little one close while they feed facilitates a beautiful early bond. For some mothers, however, the choice to breastfeed—or not—is one that's fraught with guilt and frustration.

What often gets missed in the emotionally-charged dialogue surrounding breastfeeding is that opportunities to nurse aren't equally available to all mothers. In fact, socioeconomic factors can profoundly impact a mom's ability to breastfeed.

Many of the broad social and economic factors impacting individuals and communities worldwide have specific implications that impact equal access to breastfeeding for many potential nursing mothers, such as poverty, hunger, limited health care and education opportunities, as well as economic downturns, poor job quality and limited job growth.

These barriers to entry are referred to by advocates as breastfeeding inequality. August is National Breastfeeding Month, and understanding just how deeply these issues impact successful breastfeeding for women warrants a closer look.

Income inequality is tied to breastfeeding inequality

It's easy to imagine the ways that being wealthy might make it easier to breastfeed—from being able to afford a private lactation consultant to being able to take time off from work to establish breastfeeding—but individual wealth is no guarantee that breastfeeding will be easy. That said, the actual statistics on nursing among women living below the poverty line make it clear that breastfeeding inequality is directly tied to income inequality.

While 68% of wealthy moms are still breastfeeding when the baby reaches 6 months old, only 38% of mothers below the poverty line are still doing so. This is quite a significant gap.

This gap widens in regions where economic downturn and poverty are especially prevalent, creating an even greater burden for prospective breastfeeding mothers. Wealthier states like California, Oregon and Washington have breastfeeding rates over 90%, while poorer states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana breastfeed at rates between 61-57%. The national average is 79%.

Educational opportunity is tied to breastfeeding inequality

Education is also an important piece of the breastfeeding inequality puzzle. As it follows, the better an education a mother receives, the more likely she is to eventually find employment offering a livable wage and benefits like paid maternity leave. However, if mom is from a low income family or area, her chances of enrolling in higher education drop—by a lot. In 2016, 78% of college-age students from the highest economic bracket were enrolled in college, compared to 28% of those whose parents were in the lowest income bracket. And while 56% of mothers with advanced degrees breastfeed their babies for at least three months, only 36% of those who state their educational level as 'high school' do the same.

So, why do these differences have such a profound impact on a woman's ability to successfully breastfeed?

  • Lack of good jobs and maternity support in the workplace: For many mothers, access to a period of paid maternity leave can mean the difference between breastfeeding their baby and being unable to create a successful nursing routine. In America, the Affordable Care Act demands a dedicated non-bathroom space for mothers to nurse as well as adequate breaks to do so, but there's language in the bill that leaves room for unethical employers to skirt the requirements.
  • No community education and support: Supportive and educational groups for moms can make a big difference in helping a new mother feel secure in her efforts to breastfeed, but they're often run by higher income hospitals and organizations that aren't present in low-income communities.
  • Lack of lactation support in hospital: While hospitals in high-income areas and with Baby-Friendly designations offer lactation consultants, they may be stretched thin, and if a mom's time in her room doesn't coincide with a consultant's availability, she may leave the hospital without ever receiving help.

Creating equal opportunities for women who choose to breastfeed

If these statistics don't sit right with you, you're far from alone.

Organizations like the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, La Leche League and other supporters of breastfeeding are constantly promoting legislation to help protect the rights of nursing mothers, while creating awareness of the systemic issues that suppress a mom's right to accessible breastfeeding. Awareness campaigns like National Breastfeeding Month, World Breastfeeding Week (annually the first week of August) and Black Breastfeeding Week (annually the last week of August) are opportunities for all women to help amplify the message about breastfeeding inequality, and advocate better access and opportunities for all women who choose to breastfeed.

There's a lot of work to be done in order to close these gaps, end the endless debate over breast and bottle and give every mother the right to choose breastfeeding if she so desires. These focus points are key to the cause:

More lactation support in hospitals: Better lactation support in hospital plays a fundamental role in successful early breastfeeding. The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, a UN/WHO program, offers education and support to new mothers as they learn to breastfeed. Improving lactation support in hospitals also means continuing education on the social and practical aspects of breastfeeding for professionals like midwives, nurses and doctors.

Accessible lactation support and education, both professionally and from peers: Professional lactation support as provided by groups, in-person clinic visits, in-home consultations or even online can provide resources and relief for mothers who may be struggling with breastfeeding. Support groups of peers, often led or formed by maternity-focused clinics and organizations, can also offer helpful feedback and guidance as well as essential emotional support.

Support for breastfeeding moms, both from workplaces and childcare centers: For employers, offering support requires moving beyond meeting bare minimum legal requirements when making provisions for new and nursing mothers in the workplace. Enacting proactive policies that support and protect mothers as well as offering comfortable lactation rooms and flexible breaks is key. In a childcare setting, learning the proper storage and handling of breast milk and allowing a mother to come and breastfeed is key.

If you're eager to learn more about breastfeeding inequality, this informative visualization has some powerful statistics to share, so read on.

As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

One thing first in line at the chopping block? Cooking. To be fair, I like cooking. I cooked most of our meals long before I had ever even heard of social distancing. But there's something about the pandemic that suddenly made cooking every single meal feel exponentially more draining.

Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

One thing that actually helps break up the monotony of quarantine? Trying and introducing new ingredients to my family. I love this overnight oat bowl (add milk the night before and let it set in your fridge overnight—easy-peasy!) because not only does it not compromise on nutrition, but it also helps me bring new whole fruits, vegetables and superfoods to the table with ease.

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

I kid you not, these taste exactly like a mint chocolate chip milkshake. (Just ask my 4-year-old, who is constantly stealing sips from my glass.) What she doesn't know? She's actually getting organic banana, spinach and chlorella with every sip. #momwin

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

Want to try it yourself? You can get $25 off your first box of Daily Harvest with code MOTHERLY.

This article was sponsored by Daily Harvest. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas

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