Breastfeeding is considered the best source of nutrition for most infants, in fact a majority of infants in recent years have been breastfed. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, 83.2 percent of infants in the United States were ever breastfed. The percentage drastically went down as the infant aged in their first year as breastfeeding at 6 months was at 55.8 percent and breastfeeding at 12 months was at 35.9 percent. Wisconsin had slightly higher percentages than the national average that year since 87.5 percent of infants in the state were breastfed in general, 61.7 percent were breastfed at 6 months, and 45.1 percent were breastfed at 12 months.
Even though breastfeeding is a natural part of life there are cultural attitudes and policies that create barriers for the practice. A study published in the National Library of Medicine titled “Barriers to Breastfeeding in the United States” highlighted factors that make it difficult for new mothers to breastfeed their babies. These include; lack of public knowledge; cultural beliefs/social norms around infant formulas; negative attitudes of breastfeeding from family and friends; embarrassment from public opinion; deficiencies in health care services; and employment alongside child care.
The main two that can cause problems are workplace accommodations and public embarrassment. Wisconsin has no state specific laws for workplace breastfeeding accommodations. But there is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, (“PPACA”) this law requires employers to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”
Employers are also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health has informational resources for employers who need to provide these accommodations and for breastfeeding employees who require support. The Harvard Business Review also offers some advice on how employers can support their breastfeeding employees.
The only law that Wisconsin has to protect breastfeeding mothers is 2009 Wisconsin Act 148 which protects a mother’s right to breastfeed in public. However, the state does not have as many robust protections for breastfeeding as others do. For example some states according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL); exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws; have their own state laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace; and exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty or allow jury service to be postponed. Beyond Wisconsin policy makers implementing these protections, there also needs to be a shift in social and cultural attitudes that impact the effectiveness of breastfeeding.
Both “Barriers to Breastfeeding in the United States” and another study called “9 Sociological and Cultural Influences upon Breastfeeding” cover how societal attitudes towards breastfeeding can and should shift. A few suggestions include; highlighting more on how breasts serve a nurturing purpose in order to combat the over sexualization of them in the media; realize that the nutrition that a baby needs from breastfeeding at any given moment is what is more important than public comfort; and increase public health awareness and education that normalizes breastfeeding.