Working mothers need a new recipe for success
© Getty Images

‘Working Mother’ is a title that overshadows even the most prestigious credentials, but it isn’t due to our culture’s appreciation for women balancing a family and career. Returning to work after having a child is a feat to be achieved, and the transition itself is usually difficult. One in four women return to work within 10 days of giving birth and 12 percent return after less than a week. It is impossible to imagine how challenging it is to get out of bed and head to work, leaving the side of your newborn for eight hours. As a working mother, I know the difficulty all too well.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one quarter of mothers quit their job after having a baby. This effect is invariably hurting our economy. Mothers are valuable members of the workforce, and replacing them is not easy. It can be expensive to replace employees whose talents are difficult to come by, and countless women hold positions of responsibility — positions that require specialized skills.

ADVERTISEMENT
In my line of work, I interact with new mothers from all over the United States. I hear their stories and witness their preparation for motherhood. Many of the questions I receive are in regard to how a breast pump can be used at work to continue breastfeeding. The answer isn’t as simple as getting a breast pump and using it — there are many factors at play when it comes to a successful transition to being a working mom.

 

When a mother has made a commitment to breastfeeding, which is known to provide the best nutrition she can offer her child, she must develop a plan to meet her goal. Some women dedicate themselves to providing milk through a certain age of development, while some never get off the ground and running. Lack of education, support, and cultural understanding all contribute to difficulties with breastfeeding. It is estimated that optimal breastfeeding in the United States would prevent more than 2,500 maternal deaths and over 700 infant deaths annually. If breastfeeding levels were increased to the recommendations of the Surgeon General, the U.S. could see 3.6 billion dollars in health savings. The undeniable rewards of preventing maternal deaths and the boost to the economy are worth looking at as a society.

Many mothers feel like they are forced to choose between breastfeeding and a 9-to-5. Over 80 percent of babies are breastfed after birth, but the rate of breastfeeding falls quickly after mothers return to work. Our country has made many improvements for working moms in the past, but now we must do better, starting with policy and access to resources.

For example, in her new book "Women Who Work" Ivanka Trump cites her own lack of information regarding supply and demand as the reason she struggled with pumping for her oldest child. Breast pumps enable moms to collect and store breast milk for their baby throughout the day, but having access to a breast pump is just one piece of a larger equation. Helping mothers transition back to their lives at work takes practice and understanding about how to keep milk supply levels up in order to succeed at pumping long term.

Considering the substantial research supporting breastfeeding education as a vital element of the transition to being a working mother, it surprises me that the topic isn’t inspiring more conversation. Acknowledging the struggles that mothers face can help bring the need for education to light. There is much more we can do to respect and support a work/life balance for new mothers, and breastfeeding education is a great place to begin.

The progress we have made as a nation to promote women’s roles in the workforce is not enough to hold up to comparison with other first world countries. The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not mandate paid maternity leave.

Donald and Ivanka Trump have promoted a six-week paid maternity leave, however, this is still a far cry from the average duration provided by other first world nations. A 12-week leave is widely recognized by medical professionals as the minimum acceptable recovery and bonding period for new mothers. A few stand-out corporations in the United States have gone a step further to surpass the recommended minimum, setting an example for how company culture can actively support maternal and child well-being.

The cost of childcare is not the only issue facing families, despite all the recent attention Trump’s proposed $2,100 tax credit is receiving. Financial relief is needed for working parents, but perhaps parents are returning to work earlier than they want due to financial need. In this case, more consideration needs to be given to other factors aside from childcare — would having a mandated paid leave allow families more time to find affordable childcare arrangements?

Additionally, would it give parents time to establish a breastfeeding and pumping routine that can help improve breastfeeding rates and decrease the number of sick days after going back to their jobs? Healthy children in childcare require less sick days, keeping parents at work. Absences from work to stay home with sick children are cut in half for breastfed children.

If our culture is truly dedicated to seeing mothers succeed in the workplace, we need to work harder to normalize breastfeeding, provide full maternal health coverage, and give women time to adjust to motherhood. I challenge our president and policy makers to stand up for working moms and address these issues. Economic success goes hand in hand with the well-being of mothers and babies.

Jennifer Jordan is the Director of Mom and Baby at Aeroflow Healthcare, a durable medical equipment provider that has provided breast pumps — often covered completely by health insurance — to hundreds of thousands of women since the ACA took effect.


ADVERTISEMENT
 The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.