Three recent cases illustrate that breast-feeding mothers often face employers and judges who thwart or undermine their attempts to breastfeed their infants, despite the well-documented advantages for infants, mothers and families.
Siri Wright, 35, of Boise, Idaho, faced a contempt of court citation and was threatened with jail earlier this year because she wanted to stay home to breastfeed her child rather than serve on jury duty.
A family court judge in Maine threatened Susan Holmes, a breast-feeding mother, with contempt of court and a jail sentence last September if she did not allow the father equal custody of the child. The court held that her infant son could be required to alternate nights at his mother’s and father’s homes, making the prospect of the mother being able to maintain her supply of milk unlikely.
And Cheryl Perkins, a 29-year-old Minnesota woman, was fired for “insubordination” in June of 1999 after she asked for a place at work to express breast milk for her newborn. Perkins lost her job despite a new state law that requires employers to make “reasonable efforts” to provide a room-other than a toilet stall-where an employee can express her milk in private. After filing a lawsuit, she reached a confidential out-of-court settlement in March with her former employer.
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Extensive research, especially in recent years, documents diverse and compelling advantages to infants, mothers, families and society from breastfeeding and the use of human milk for infant feeding. These include nutritional, immunological, developmental, psychological, social, economic and environmental benefits.
Human milk is uniquely superior for infant feeding and is species-specific; all substitute feeding options differ markedly from it.
Virtually every public health official in the United States. as well as abroad recognizes the benefits of breastfeeding and urges mothers to nurse their infants at least for the first six months of life. Yet, low rates of breastfeeding remain a public health concern. In 1995, only 60 percent of U.S. women were breastfeeding exclusively or in conjunction with formula at the time of hospital discharge, according to a study reported in the journal Pediatrics in 1997.