Friday, September 01, 2006

Breast is Best, But Back to Work With You

The best post ever by Ann Althouse about the vice a woman finds herself squeezed by expectations of going back to work and breastfeeding a newborn child. To introduce, she says:

But apparently, a lot of women are working and pumping these days. I guess if you don't now, you're supposed to feel bad. It's hard enough to be a working mother without having people upping the standard of what it takes to do it passably well.
Amen. And Ann, you have no idea what it is like these days for stay-at-home moms of school-aged children, nevermind working moms. Homework in first and second grade that is really parent-work--reading logs, math, spelling, sophisticated art projeccts etc. Makes you wonder what they do in school. Didn't Laura Ingalls send the students home at noon to work the farm. And weren't those kids versed in Plato? But I digress. Back to Ann:
One solution that's not mentioned is giving women longer maternity leaves so they can breastfeed the baby directly. But that, ironically, would violate the Equal Protection Clause! Maternity leaves in excess of the pregnancy disability period of eight weeks -- unless an equal period is given to new fathers -- is unconstitutional sex discrimination. That's the plain implication of the Supreme Court's opinion in Nevada v. Hibbs -- upholding the Family and Medical Leave Act as an exercise of Congress's Fourteenth Amendment power -- as I pointed out in a law review article (PDF):
There was no recognition in Hibbs that a state might, without engaging in mere sex stereotypes, genuinely think that more than eight weeks are needed to recover from pregnancy and childbirth or might, quite apart from stereotypes about who ought to take care of a baby, want to facilitate breast-feeding for a period longer than eight weeks.
These legal proceedings have lead to absurd divorce settlements, too. A breastfeeding mother of a three month old infant was ordered to give the baby to her ex-husband for three weeks in a row. And then at nine months, the mother was to give the still breastfeeding baby to the father for two months. Because there is no notion now that mother and fathers are different in any way, the cognitive, social, and health development of the child isn't taken into account. No big deal to rip a breastfed baby away from its mom. In fact, divorced mothers should be compelled by the court to bottlefeed so as not to inconvenience the father. Spiteful men can seek egregious custody terms for that is bad for the baby because of gender "equity". Continuing.....
When I was writing that article, I asked a colleague why no one brought up breastfeeding. She didn't have any ideas about why the states wouldn't use breastfeeding to account for treating men and women differently when it comes to giving leave to new parents (a key issue in Hibbs). But, she said, women's groups have not worked for breastfeeding leaves because it runs counter to their goal of pushing for requiring employers to accommodate breastfeeding employees. And, I would add, it conflicts with a preference for keeping women in the workplace. If a state offered more new parent leave to women in order to breastfeed, women's groups might construe it as an attempt to promote traditional sex roles, with the woman staying home with the baby. Can you tell the difference between a benefit and discrimination there? [ADDED: I should clarify that only government action violates the Equal Protection Clause, so that if the state is not the employer and if the new statutory law did not require longer leave for women, it would be possible to redo the statutory law that limits private employers.] [Emphasis added. -Ed.]

I think we could support giving women more of a choice whether to stay home and breastfeed or go back to work and continue to breastfeed. There is so much pressure on women! It's hard to go through pregnancy and childbirth and to take care of an infant. Breastfeeding a pretty simple part of this if you have your baby close by. But you may need to go back to work or want to go back to work. I strongly support that. And I support the pumping approach if you can do it. And of course the employer should accommodate the physical needs you will have. But it's a much harder question whether there should be laws that allow you to sue if you think your employer hasn't helped you enough. But of all the things we ought to do to make life easier for mothers, we should quit making them feel like they have to go through the pumping routine. It's hard to work and have an infant at home. It's going to be harder if you have to pump breastmilk throughout the day while you're trying to pay attention to your work -- regardless of how accommodating the employer is. Frankly, quite aside from the pumping task, I would not want to have to try to concentrate on work with my breasts acting up continually.
My sister had to do exactly this as a high-powered executive. How she made it, I'll never know. But make no mistake, part of the decline in birthrate among educated women is that they are severely penalized career-wise and in their mothering when they have children. And the educated women who do choose to leave the workplace are scorned as sell-outs. It's a no-win situation.

One point of disagreement with Ann. The health benefits and benefits to a child by being breastfed and with the mother for a year simply cannot be overstated. There are so many corrolations between breastfeeding and the child's positive development they are too numerous to list. The benefits to moms is becoming more evident with each passing day.

One example: breastfed babies have reduced ear infections. This means less antibiotic use which is correlated with breast cancer as adults. My children have had precisely three ear infections between them and they were all my premature son's. Can you imagine the health care savings of that one factor alone?

The ramifications of breastfeeding are far reaching socially, politcally and economically. I just believe the pressure put on women is one more way that society is being gender neuterized.

1 comment:

Christy're said...

I don't know how women do it--for one kid, yeah, I can see that, but more than one? It seems to me that a career will take a hit when kids come in the picture, whether or not the woman tries to pump.

I don't see why we are always supposed to pretend we can have it all--and that it's someone else's fault if we can't. Maybe we're biologically different??