Breastfeeding Inequality: When Your Choice Is Not Always Your Own

Breastfeeding Inequality is an issue we all need to fightAs we celebrate National Breastfeeding Month, we’re still saddened by the discriminations many mamas face when it comes to them ‘choosing’ to breastfeed their babies. Breastfeeding one’s child is as natural a right as breathing, and still? Breastfeeding inequality exists and leaves many women not able to ‘choose’ breastfeeding after all.

Let’s be honest.

If you’re reading this article, we’re going to assume you have had the luxury to choose whether or not you breastfeed your baby. If we’re wrong in that assumption, forgive us; that’s what this whole article is about.

But, wait–choosing to breastfeed one’s baby is a luxury?

It’s a right! It’s as natural as breathing! It’s what our bodies were meant to do!

Mamas, we agree. Fully.

Breastfeeding is as natural a way to nourish future generations as there ever was.

But choosing to do so these days, and particularly in the United States, is a luxury.

Recently, Neve with We The Parents  updated research and information about breastfeeding inequality she’d initially shared in 2018.

We were saddened to see that despite continued pushes to normalize breastfeeding and make breastfeeding an obvious and easy choice for moms–factors that were often out of their control simply took away their right to choose to breastfeed.

Related: Why Black Breastfeeding Week? Because We Need It

Breastfeeding Inequality: Your Choice To Breastfeed Depends More On Just Desire

It seems so common sense: I want to breastfeed my baby, so I will.

It’s usually pretty straightforward, right?

Wrong.

The bottom line is that for women of color, women of lower socioeconomic or family income groups, women of lower education levels and heck–women in general (because the modern workplace still doesn’t scream “Mother-Friendly”)–breastfeeding rates are lower.

Think about it…lower income levels mean you most likely have less access to paid maternity leave. Or you work in a job that probably won’t allow you to pump as you need, but somehow figure out how to make all the milk on your ‘Not Even OSHA-guaranteed’ break(s) during your workday–and if that is if you even get a break (those depend on state laws too).

If you are from a lower socioeconomic demographic, odds are you didn’t have the same access to prenatal, maternity and lactation support as did another mother in a higher SES, and the odds of your community and family support being the same, are lower.

And if we’re really honest (this may sting a little), bearing the badge of a ‘Badass Breastfeeding Mama’ or ‘Proud Crunchy Mama’ is a lot easier to do when we can feed our babies whenever they need and with the support of our social circles and communities. When you have to decide whether to keep your job so you can pay the electric bill (even if it means you formula feed) or nurse your baby but worry about how to keep a roof over your head?

All too often, a mama’s right to choose to breastfeed is dictated by systemic discrimination–whether it’s her skin color, her education level, her income demographics or her culture.

But Can’t We Fight Breastfeeding Inequality?

Wait, you say again…

If a mother really wants to breastfeed her baby, she’ll find a way. She can pump, right? Healthcare plans mandate pumps now. Sort of. Your healthcare plan may only let you rent one, and the reality is, the lower-priced healthcare plans that many mothers of lower SES demographics offer lower levels of coverage.

Not to mention, have you ever talked to a mother who scraped enough pennies to even pay for her marketplace Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance say, “I love my insurance! The family deductible is so low!”?

Because we haven’t. Yes, breast pumps are covered under every health insurance plan, but that’s *if* you even have insurance (many women can’t even afford the ACA coverage). And if you do have insurance, family deductibles are so high, many families only turn to using insurance benefits in dire need where life or limb is concerned.

And health insurances (most) don’t cover the bottles. Or nipples. Or storage bags.

Also, many insurance coverages say that they’ll ‘cover’ nursing and counseling for the duration of your breastfeeding period, but they often turn that off at 6 months. Why? Because that’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. Though they say they prefer breastfeeding through the first year, many insurance companies see that ‘recommendation’ cutoff at 6 months, and a mother’s right to breastfeed longer? Not always her own.

Yes, we’d like to believe, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” but when we deny the blatant inequalities that make it so difficult for our sister mamas to breastfeed? Willpower wanes.

Besides, yes–we want a baby to get mama’s milk (especially those who are in lower-income levels and demographics, as their options for nutritious solid foods typically are limited as well). But there’s a lot to be said for the bond of a mother and her baby when she is breastfeeding vs. pumping. Figuring workarounds for poor maternity leave, poor lactation counseling options and poor support for poor women continue to make their choice to breastfeed one they barely get to make.

Related: How the US Continues to Fall Behind on Paid Parental Leave and What We Can Do

We CAN fight breastfeeding inequality. We can support policies and legislation that are pro-mama and pro-breastfeeding so they in turn are pro-baby. We can share what we know with our clinicians and ask them what they’re doing–what’s your OB-GYN or your child’s pediatrician doing to ensure their marginalized populations are cared for when it comes to breastfeeding inequality? You may stop them in their tracks when you ask, but it’s important that you do.

We can raise awareness for the fact that there IS indeed such a thing as breastfeeding inequality. If we’re lucky enough to never have dealt with it, may we use that favor to help support sister mamas who aren’t.

You can learn more about breastfeeding inequality and why it matters at We The Parents.

Breastfeeding Inequality Infographic


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