Breast Milk is a Human Right

Direct link to the petition Protect Breast Milk as a Human Right here

Today, I am writing because preventative care services that assist families with breastfeeding are on the chopping block, along with much of the Affordable Care Act. This issue does not solely affect women — it affects families, the economy, and the well-being of all of our children. If preventative care services such as lactation support and breast pump coverage are eliminated, the results could be disastrous. Plans may still include preventative care in bits and pieces, but the most vulnerable populations — young families — will likely be the hardest hit by policy changes.

And we don’t just stand to lose vital breastfeeding support — preventative care services under threat also include annual wellness exams, screening and counseling for survivors of domestic violence, testing for gestational diabetes, and more. An estimated 89% of women ages 19–64 benefit from a health insurance plan that includes these preventative health measures, which in total reach up to 98 million Americans.

I know firsthand that choosing to breastfeed doesn’t always seem like the easiest choice. When my daughter was born, I did not have a job that offered paid maternity leave. After incurring a towering amount of debt to sustain my unpaid twelve-week recovery, I prepared myself to return to my job. With my trusty breast pump and plastic milk storage bags in hand, I found time to pump on breaks, fifteen minutes here or there, literally in the supply closet.

This is the reality of breastfeeding in our society. Some families are up against the odds when it comes to having a successful breastfeeding experience. Even if you make it through the first few difficult weeks of latching, milk supply issues, and nighttime nursing, the looming stress of how it will all change when you return to work or school hangs overhead. Still, many families don’t want to give up, because according to researchers and doctors, breastfeeding is the best way to nourish a growing baby.

Breastfeeding strengthens immunities to illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhea, which are two of the main causes of infant mortality worldwide. Long-term benefits of breastfeeding include a reduced risk of diabetes, asthma, and childhood obesity. On top of all this, breast milk is free and saves working families from the burden of paying for formula: a cost which can add up to over $2,000 per year. So why aren’t policymakers prioritizing support for breastfeeding?

In her address to American families, Ivanka Trump wrote, “[President-Elect Trump] is prepared to chart a new course that promotes strong families and celebrates their individual needs; one that honors, respects and empowers both working and stay-at-home mothers and caregivers.” Women’s and infants’ preventative health coverage are a vital part of this support for families, and this is the time for us to demand that the incoming administration walk their talk about supporting working families by ensuring that we don’t lose vital preventative care that supports breastfeeding.

The pressure to return to work after a new baby arrives is enough for many mothers to throw in the towel on nursing. Pumps can be prohibitively expensive for low-income families, and without a reliable pump, the potential for returning to work and continuing to breastfeed is very low. Not being able to afford a breast pump adds more stress to an already difficult season of change and weakens the confidence of parents who only want the best for their children.

In addition to being a breastfeeding and working mother, I’ve also spent the better part of my adult life helping families gain access to the support and resources they need to transition into parenthood. I’ve worked as a childbirth support worker, as the Creative Director of a midwifery and birth non-profit magazine, and I’ve organized two national conferences for childbirth professionals.

Currently, I work for a company that provides support for nursing mothers by offering breast pumps, pumping supplies, breastfeeding education, and remote lactation support. Many of the families I work with are currently eligible to receive a breast pump through their insurance or Medicaid coverage as a part of the eleven preventative care services for women’s health developed for the Affordable Care Act. When I talk with new families about receiving a breast pump through their insurance, I almost always hear gratitude in their voices, but recently I have also sensed fear. I am asked daily about the future of breast pump coverage. Parents are afraid that they will lose access to the tools enabling them to breastfeed while handling the challenges of returning to normal life after birth.

Breast milk is a human right. All families deserve the support and resources needed to nourish their children the way they choose. With all the challenges new parents currently face, this is not the time to create more obstacles. Our political leaders have the ability to keep preventative care services available for all families and promote healthy outcomes for our children. Let’s stand together to let them know how important these services are to us.

If you believe in the value of breastfeeding support for families, please join me in signing this petition to protect preventative care services.

Meghan Bausone has a background in childbirth and breastfeeding advocacy. She was the founder and Creative Director of SQUAT Birth Journal.