After enjoying PhD in Parenting's recent post, The Economics of Breastfeeding: A Cost-Benefit Analysis, which scrutinized Hannah Rosin's latest rant on breastfeeding , I started wondering if we Aruban breastfeeding mothers fared the same, where our income and decision to breastfeed is concerned.
In the states and many other countries, a breastfeeding mother must sometimes ultimately choose between her salary or her milk. The laws protecting and granting breaks for nursing mothers are few and far between. We know all too well what usually ends up happening, and who ends up getting the short end of the stick. The baby.
Since facts and figures on breastfeeding and its duration applicable to Aruba is not available, I'll use stats from the U.S.
A dismal 2009 breastfeeding report card from the CDC found that only 74 percent of women start breastfeeding, only 33 percent were still exclusively breastfeeding at three months and only 14 percent were still exclusively breastfeeding at six months.
A big factor in these appalling numbers is the return to work. Many mothers are either not aware, or willing to go through the trouble to combine work with breastfeeding. Although I don't have concrete numbers, I do know that the breastfeeding rates in Aruba are about as dismal as the States'. I ask myself 'why!'... Unlike the states, what Aruban mothers do have is a law that protects them, all they need now is information and (some) a backbone to stand up to an employer who is either unaware or unwilling (incredible right? despite us having legal rights) to cooperate with this law.
For clarification, let me go through our system's laws:
12 Weeks 100% paid maternity leave granted by SVB. This can be taken either 4 weeks before a woman's EDD with 8 weeks after (this is ridiculous though, because we all know about the lie of the EDD) or it can be taken 6-6.
A mom who chooses 4-8 has at the most 10 weeks with the baby (because no one wants a baby born at 36 weeks) which in my honest opinion, is absolutely not enough, but in any case. So, what usually happens is the mother has 7 weeks with the baby, and after that has to return to work. Here's the beautiful part. Upon returning to work, a lactating woman is granted 100% paid breastfeeding breaks that account for 25% of her daily work hours, excluding her lunch break. So if a woman normally works 8 hours a day with a one (1) hour lunch break, she is entitled to 2 hours to either express her milk or nurse her baby live. This continues up until the first day of the baby's tenth month of life. Nice eh?* What usually happens, if the mother uses the law the to full, is that, once 10 months hit, she discusses with her employer if he/she would be kind enough to cooperate and extend it to one year. By then, the baby will be taking in enough solids to meet his needs in the absence of his mother. Most mothers then just have one nursing/pumping session in her lunch break. Of course, it could always be the case that the baby is still very much an avid nurser and eats very little solids, which is perfectly normal. In such a case, I think, individual circumstances would dictate that a mother may or should ask for an assessment and cooperation on behalf of her personal situation and the employer may choose to be more lenient.
This became a mandated law May 19th 2008. It is for government workers as well as workers in the private sector. And yet, did you know that so many employers are unaware or unwilling to cooperate? Did you know that many mothers are unaware of their rights, or are unwilling to stand up to an uninformed boss?
Going back to our main thought, whether breastfeeding mothers really end up earning less than their formula feeding counterparts. I don't agree. Not on Aruba at least. With legal protection, women can go back to work and feel secure that they don't have to choose between feeding the family, or feeding the baby. We just don't. Whether you're going back to work because you want to or because you have to, I encourage all Aruban mothers to make full use of your rights. Get to know what is expected of you and your employer where combining breastfeeding with work is concerned. Don't wait until the day you go on maternity leave or worse yet, the day you come back to work! Discuss it respectfully but firmly with your boss even if you're sure or not, if you'll breastfeed, and do it as early as possible Nobody waits to learn how to operate a parachute right before they jump out of a plane...do they?
*Footnote: While this law is a generous and a well deserved one, Fundacion Pro Lechi Mama Aruba continually strives to remind mothers that it is a law protecting the baby, and not the mother. It has been brought to our attention, as we have also personally heard, of such instances of a non-lactating mother abusing this law. We constantly reiterate and ask mothers to show empathy and proper judgement when making use of this right, so that it not be taken away from those who sorely need and long to use it in a proper fashion.