VOICES: Employers Asked to Support Breastfeeding Mothers

By Maymi Preston-Donahue

As a modern and educated woman, I want it all. I want a career and I also want a family and I do not feel that this is a far-fetched dream to aspire to. I recently had a baby which opened my awareness to just how difficult it is in this area to have children and a career. Firstly, there are the usual issues of few childcare choices, a lack of jobs, and long commutes to work that we have to deal with. However, what surprised me most was the lack of flexibility that existed within the tribes towards allowing a mother to provide her child with the basic necessities of nutrition. I am talking about breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is hands down the most ideal (and most traditional) food for a baby. The National Pediatricians Association shows that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and throughout the first year drastically cuts down on a baby’s chances of being obese as an adult, of having diabetes, and of being sick as an infant. Mothers who breastfeed tend to lose baby weight much faster and are less likely to suffer from postpartum depression and other post pregnancy issues. It also shows that babies who breastfeed tend to have higher IQs, to have greater self-confidence as children, and to have lower rates of skin diseases and food allergies. Considering that Native Americans suffer from high rates of diabetes and issues with weight, it would seem that supporting a mother’s right to breastfeed her baby is an obvious choice. However, I feel that not enough local entities support this choice.

Not enough tribal entities have breastfeeding rooms for mothers on their work sites, nor do they allow for babies in the work place. Some (not all) local tribes allow mothers to bring their babies to work for a short time (while still in the baby basket for example) so that they can breastfeed. Further, maternity leave is not paid, nor is it always long enough to support the mother and her baby in breastfeeding. Many mothers either have to choose to leave work or to put their baby on formula to keep paying the bills during those crucial first six months. Of course, there is always pumping, but this is not always ideal for mothers who need to feed babies on demand and who have varying degrees of appetite (my baby, for example, eats A LOT). Further, mothers who work do not want to spend the limited amounts of time they have with their babies on pumping. Countries like Sweden, Switzerland, and England allow mothers a full year of paid maternity leave and fathers a full eight to support the mother in breastfeeding. These countries recognize the importance of the health of their future generations and realize the vast amounts of money to be saved in health care in the future by allowing babies to have the healthiest starts possible. The United States are behind these countries in this respect, but that does not mean that tribal entities need to be behind as well. As sovereign entities tribes can set their own standards. Tribal leaders have the power to allow their departments to support women who want to breastfeed their babies. I feel tribes need to set a standard that shows just how much we value our future generations and the qualified women whom they employ and who make up the heart of the people.

Yootva and Thank you.

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January 8th, 2014

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