The Breastfeeding Campaign
Last week I mentioned a new breastfeeding campaign from the Department of Health and Human Services. There are currently two television spots, one featuring pregnant women in a logrolling competition, and the other featuring a pregnant woman riding a mechanical bull. The main messages of the ads are “breastfeed exclusively for 6 months,” and “you wouldn’t take risks before your baby is born, why start after?” Click the links above to view the ads; you can also read the transcripts for each ad. The complete set of print, television, and radio materials for the campaign is available here.
The ads have generated a fair bit of controversy, because of the intended feeling of guilt many women think the ads are designed to generate if a woman does not or cannot breastfeed for 6 months. This seems to be a fair criticism, given that many women know breastfeeding is best, but may not have the support they need, particularly in the workplace, to breastfeed exclusively. There are some good comments over at Feminsting describing the difficulties some women had when trying to breastfeed. A Chicago Tribune editorial, “The Breast Police”, also addresses reasons why women can’t meet this goal, and says the HHS tactics are unnecessary, given that 70% of mothers at least attempt to breastfeed. NBC Nightly News also covered the ad campaign, and has accompanying video.
The National Women’s Health Information Center has a ton of breastfeeding information up, including coverage of the HHS campaign, but some of the information provided suggests the challenges that women will have. Among the recommendations:
“After you have your baby, try to take as much time off as possible”
“Don’t be afraid to request a clean and private area where you can pump your milk. If you don’t have your own office space, you can ask to use a supervisor’s office during certain times. Or you can ask to have a clean, clutter free corner of a storage room.”
In the Frequently Asked Questions:
“Will breastfeeding tie me to my home?: Not at all! Breastfeeding can be convenient no matter where you are because you don’t have to bring along feeding equipment like bottles, water, or formula. Your baby is all you need. Even if you want to breastfeed in private, you usually can find a woman’s lounge or fitting room. If you want to go out without your baby, you can pump your milk beforehand, and leave it for someone else to give your baby while you are gone.”
Doesn’t this assume 1) you can always take baby with you (like to work); 2) there actually is always a “women’s lounge or fitting room” available (are women with babies only going out to shop?); 3) you have the resources to have someone to help who can feed the baby pumped milk if you do have to go out? The website does say, “Breastfeeding is more than a way to feed a baby, it becomes a lifestyle.” How many women can afford to let that become their lifestyle, when money is needed to provide for the whole family?
I can imagine that many, many women do not have the option to “take as much time off as possible,” and don’t have supervisors who are going to respond kindly to requests for accomodation. Are these recommendations completely out of touch with the situations of most working women? They seem to presume an office-type, professional environment. What of women who work at McDonald’s, in factories, on farms? Are these employers going to allow women to take extra time off or take extra breaks to pump? Their babies might be most in need of the health benefits of breastfeeding, and they may be least able to provide them.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-305
1999 Tn. ALS 161; 1999 Tenn. Pub. Acts 161; 1999 Tn. Pub. Ch. 161; 1999 Tn. SB 1856
(a) An employer shall provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child. The break time shall, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee. An employer shall not be required to provide break time under this section if to do so would unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.
(b) The employer shall make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location in close proximity to the work area, other than a toilet stall, where the employee can express her breast milk in privacy. The employer shall be held harmless if reasonable effort has been made to comply with this subsection.
(c) For the purposes of this section, “employer” means a person or entity that employs one (1) or more employees and includes the state and its political subdivisions.
Do you see the wiggle room in there? An employer is only required to try, not to actually provide necessary break time or appropriate areas. You just don’t have the extra space? Extra break time would disrupt operations (such as in low-wage workplaces)? You’re all set – don’t worry about it.
So how many U.S. women do breastfeed? Are they all completely unaware of the benefits? According to CDC data for 2004:
70.3% ever breastfeed; 36.2% at 6 months (14.1% breastfeed exclusively); 17.8% breastfeed at 12 months; 38.5% are breastfeeding exclusively at 3 months. So women are starting out strong, but fewer are breastfeeding as time passes.
Maybe they’re returning to work, eh? Because they have to?
The point, after all this, is that educating women about breastfeeding does not seem to be the problem. Reducing the barriers to making that a reality is the problem, and the HHS ads address that not at all.
Blogs covering it: