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Great New Yorker Story: “Baby Food”

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Here’s a great piece about breastfeeding from The New Yorker. And an excerpt:

In 1997, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk,” declaring human milk to be “species-specific” and recommending it as the exclusive food for the first six months of a baby’s life, to be followed by a mixed diet of solid foods and human milk until at least the end of the first year. In that statement, and in a subsequent revision, the A.A.P. cited research linking breast-feeding to the reduced incidence and severity of, among other things, bacterial meningitis, diarrhea, respiratory-tract infection, ear infection, urinary-tract infection, sudden-infant-death syndrome, diabetes mellitus, lymphoma, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, obesity, and asthma. The benefits of breast-feeding are unrivalled; breast-feeding rates in the United States are low; the combination makes for a public-health dilemma. In 2000, the Department of Health and Human Services announced its goal of increasing the proportion of mothers who breast-feed their babies “at initiation” (i.e., before they leave the hospital) from a 1998 baseline of sixty-four per cent to a 2010 target of seventy-five per cent; until the age of six months, from twenty-nine per cent to fifty per cent; at one year, from sixteen per cent to twenty-five per cent. (The same targets were announced in 1990; they were not reached.) Attempts to improve initiation rates have met with much, if spotty, success. The Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago, which runs a peer-counselling program called the Mother’s Milk Club, has achieved an astonishing initiation rate of ninety-five per cent; nationally, the rate is not quite seventy-five per cent. More difficult has been raising the rates at six and twelve months. The C.D.C., which issues an annual Breastfeeding Report Card, has announced that for babies born in 2005 the rate of exclusive breast-feeding at six months was only twelve per cent (although the rate of some breast-feeding at six months had risen to forty-three per cent).
One big reason so many women stop breast-feeding is that more than half of mothers of infants under six months old go to work. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees only twelve weeks of (unpaid) maternity leave and, in marked contrast to established practice in other industrial nations, neither the government nor the typical employer offers much more. To follow a doctor’s orders, a woman who returns to work twelve weeks after childbirth has to find a way to feed her baby her own milk for another nine months. The nation suffers, in short, from a Human Milk Gap.
There are three ways to bridge that gap: longer maternity leaves, on-site infant child care, and pumps. Much effort has been spent implementing option No. 3, the cheap way out. Medela distributes pumps in more than ninety countries, but its biggest market, by far, is the United States, where maternity leaves are so stinting that many women—blue-, pink-, and white-collar alike—return to work just weeks after giving birth. (Breasts supply milk in response to demand; if a woman is unable to put her baby to her breast regularly, she will stop producing milk regularly. Expressing not only provides milk to be stored for times when she is away; it also makes it possible for a working woman to keep nursing her baby at night and on weekends.)



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