By Gina Cicatelli Ciagne August is a month of family fun, vacations, hot and steamy weather and … breastfeeding awareness! As a former breastfeeding mom and now a breastfeeding educator and advocate, this makes August my favorite month. I get to talk about an issue I’m passionate about and help others understand why we need to support nursing moms and their babies at home, in public, and at work.
Breastfeeding is often thought of as just an act that impacts that mom and baby. While it’s true it’s a great bonding experience between mom and baby, it’s also something that impacts the health of our nation. That means it impacts all of us. Decades of research show that breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for moms and babies. However, it seems that there’s still a level of personal discomfort around breastfeeding for many women. This discomfort can prevent them from giving their children a lifetime of health benefits, such as a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease. Not to mention, the benefits for moms. For instance, women who breastfeed have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and ovarian and breast cancer.
Despite the benefits, I’ve witnessed and heard stories of nursing moms who have been shamed for breastfeeding in public. In fact, the 2015 Lansinoh Global Breastfeeding Survey finds that while breastfeeding initiation is at an all-time high in the United States (80 percent), we still lag behind in other critical areas, including the amount of shaming occurring on a daily basis. According to the survey, 25 percent of nursing moms say they have been openly criticized or experienced prejudice while breastfeeding in public. The good news is 67 percent of moms and moms-to-be in the United States believe that breastfeeding in public is perfectly natural. This number jumped 10 percent from last year, demonstrating the strides we’ve made in accepting breastfeeding practices.
I hope to only see the number of women who feel comfortable breastfeeding in public continue to rise. Breastfeeding in public is a necessity, and no one should be ridiculed or shamed while trying to care for an infant who is simply hungry. Any mom or dad will tell you that babies don’t watch clocks and they don’t care where they are when they need to eat. When people tell me that seeing women breastfeeding in public makes them uncomfortable, I ask them two questions: Is it fair that a baby should have to cry and wait to eat because it makes others uncomfortable? How would you feel if someone asked you to wait to eat until you were in private because it made them uncomfortable?
The theme for this year’s World Breastfeeding Month is “Breastfeeding and Work, Let’s Make it Work.” Historically, the burden has been placed on moms to “make breastfeeding work,” but we have made progress in supporting moms at many levels of society. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s inclusion of breastfeeding and pumping mandates, breastfeeding initiation and duration is increasing. And employers are making accommodations for moms so they have a place to pump at work. These are just two of the many areas where we have seen tremendous strides in protecting, supporting, and promoting breastfeeding.
Whether it’s supporting legislation that upholds the right to breastfeed in public or ensuring that employers are accommodating their nursing employees, we all have a role to play. Perhaps one of the key places that support can come from is Congress. Our representatives can directly support and sponsor breastfeeding-related legislation like the act currently promoted by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. The Friendly Airports for Mothers (FAM) Act, would require large and medium airports nationwide to provide lactation rooms. It’s common sense legislation that’s long overdue.
As we commemorate World Breastfeeding Month, we need to remember what is at the center of it: A baby’s right to a healthier life and our right to a healthier nation. Breastfeeding is a journey, and it’s one I believe every mom and baby should have the right to take. How they do it is up to them, but there’s so much we can do to support them along the way. Every action has a reaction and every step we can take to support and protect breastfeeding moms and babies is a win for us all.
Gina Cicatelli Ciagne, CLC, is VP global healthcare relations for Lansinoh Laboratories, Inc.