Allison StevensWASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–Since this column is about combining breastfeeding with work, I’d like to get something off my chest: I’m nursing my 3-month-old son right now.

My confession may conjure up images of a working mom in a state of modern maternal bliss, but really, working while nursing isn’t ideal.

I practically live in "My Brest Friend," a nursing support pillow with a cringe-inducing name and countless spit-up stains.

I’ve been hunched over my son for more than half an hour now and, as is often the case, he’s fallen asleep while nursing. My back is killing me. I’d like nothing more than to scoot back in my chair, sit up straight and stretch my legs, which are well on their way to a state of near-paralysis. But I dare not move for fear of waking Owen up and losing my precious writing time.

Forget getting up to go to the bathroom or grabbing something to eat or drink. And oh yeah, there’s the pain factor. Fortunately I haven’t experienced the kind of excruciating pain I did when I started nursing my first son, Jack, who’s now 2, but I’m anticipating a different kind of pain with Owen: He appears to be an early teether, which means breastfeeding will soon become a little bit more like breast-eating.

I’m only doing this because nursing and working at the same time is the most efficient way for me to meet my deadlines. And, I must admit, I take comfort in the cuddle time and the knowledge that my baby is getting his mother’s milk.

The Perfect Food

While pregnant, I was bombarded with information about the benefits of breast milk. It protects infants from infections, chronic diseases and sudden death and it even makes them smarter: Breastfed infants have been shown to have higher IQ levels than formula-fed ones. It’s the perfect food, the magical elixir, the nectar of the gods.

But it’s not all about the baby. Mothers who breastfeed have lower rates of breast cancer and also may be less likely to develop ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and coronary heart disease. On top of that–and this is key–breastfeeding burns hundreds of calories a day, making it pound-for-pound the easiest diet and exercise regimen I’ve ever been on.

Believe me, I’m more than happy to toss out the jogging stroller and nurse instead. I may never stop if it means I don’t have to hit the gym ever again.

Despite its challenges, I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to combine work with nursing. But sadly, too many working mothers can’t make nursing work. Most employers don’t allow new mothers to bring their babies to the office or work from home, and many do not offer paid maternity leave or provide breastfeeding breaks at work.

Even though the majority of U.S. mothers work outside the home, and our health authorities are trying to persuade women to breastfeed exclusively for at least six months, our government has passed no federal laws guaranteeing these basic workplace supports.

Member of the Minority

breastfeedingWe are in the small minority of nations in this regard, according to a new study by Jody Heymann, founding director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University in Canada, and research scientist Alison Earle.

In their new book, Raising the Global Floor: Dismantling the Myth That We Cant Afford Good Working Conditions for Everyone, they find that 177 countries guarantee paid leave after the birth of a child and 132 nations guarantee breastfeeding breaks at work.

It’s time the United States joins the world community and puts in place these basic workplace supports.

Countries can promote breastfeeding and prosper at the same time, Heymann and Earle show.

Of the 15 most economically-competitive countries in the world, 13 guarantee paid leave for new mothers and seven guarantee breastfeeding breaks to nursing mothers on the job.

Providing working mothers with the time and ability to breastfeed isn’t free, but surely the United States, one of the richest countries in the world, can provide new mothers with the minimal supports they need to give their babies the breast–which, we can all agree, is best.

And then let’s talk about a new name for this nursing pillow.

Allison Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C. She writes for clients who support laws to promote breastfeeding in the workplace.

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