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Should Mothers Be Paid For Caregiving?

Viviane believes in the power of informed choices, consent, and bodily autonomy, seeing them as the stepping stones to empowerment. 

 
Executive Contributor Viviane Schima

Motherhood, often considered a pinnacle of nurturing and care, is entangled in a complex web of hidden choices and challenges. Among these, one of the most significant yet debated choices are those involving breastfeeding. Despite its well-documented health advantages, breastfeeding poses a challenge for many mothers, particularly in today's society where balancing caregiving with employment is commonplace. 


A mother and a daughter.

This article explores the surrounding complexities around care giving and considers whether certain aspects of care giving, specifically breastfeeding, should be acknowledged and recognized as paid labor when undertaken by mothers.


The breastfeeding conundrum: Navigating parenthood and employment


Breastfeeding has long been hailed as the gold standard of infant nutrition, offering a myriad of health advantages for both babies and mothers. However, the reality of balancing breastfeeding with the demands of employment poses significant challenges for many women. 


Studies conducted by experts like Smith et al. (2012) and Rollins et al. (2016) shed light on the critical importance of community support in ensuring breastfeeding success. Yet, despite the widespread acknowledgment of its advantages, numerous barriers continue to hinder the breastfeeding journey, particularly affecting marginalized communities and therefore exacerbating disparities in breastfeeding rates.


Navigating the delicate balance between providing for one's family and nurturing a newborn places mothers in the middle of a tough spot. Breastfeeding discrimination in the workplace takes many forms, including denying pumping break requests, refusing to provide privacy, leaving mothers to pump milk with their breasts exposed to coworkers, clients, and the public, at times in physically unsafe conditions, and, in certain cases, resulting in firing a mother for wanting to pump her milk during working hours.


The pressure to smoothly blend breastfeeding with the demands of work highlights a deep-seated conflict between the lack of recognition for caregiving and the need to stay productive in the workforce. 


These challenges are made worse by unfair systems that create inequalities in access to resources and support, adding layers of complexity to the experience of modern motherhood.


Beyond the baby blues: The realities of working mothers


Van Esterik and O'Connor (2017) aptly characterize breastfeeding as more than just a nutritional practice; it is a form of embodied care, deeply intertwined with societal norms and gender roles.


Viewing breastfeeding simply as a way to pass on nutrients overlooks its deeper meaning as a form of nurturing, a perspective commonly referred to as the reductionist view. Research by Mann (2017) underscores the importance of caregiving, showing how it helps build empathy and strengthen social bonds. However, because caregiving is often seen as women's work, it's often not recognized as valuable labor, leading to inequality and underappreciation, especially for mothers.


Incorporating breastfeeding into paid work raises important questions about how we value mothers' efforts. In a society that prioritizes making money over caring for each other, the importance of caregiving often gets sidelined and disregarded. This lack of appreciation not only makes it hard for caregivers to support themselves financially but also widens the gender gap between men and women, ultimately leading to unequal treatment.


Confronting the structural bias


The impacts of care giving, particularly breastfeeding, extend across both economic and social spheres. Research by Ferrant et al. (2014) highlights the unequal burden of unpaid care work on women, affecting their financial stability and overall welfare. Although initiatives like the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provide certain benefits for breastfeeding mothers at work, the lack of comprehensive and reliable support worsens the challenges faced by nursing mothers.


Lieb and Thistle (2006) emphasize the changing dynamics of women's economic empowerment, highlighting the need for policy actions that consider both their reproductive and productive abilities.


To tackle the structural challenges surrounding breastfeeding, mindful strategies are imperative. These approaches must address both personal and systemic obstacles. Implementing inclusive policies like paid parental leave and lactation support programs in workplaces are crucial. These measures empower mothers to breastfeed without compromising their professional goals.


Additionally, efforts to promote breastfeeding education and support can dismantle cultural barriers, fostering a more nurturing and inclusive environment for nursing mothers.


Reframing breastfeeding: Recognizing the importance of breastfeeding support


The commercialization of human milk-based formulas, as highlighted by Smith (2013), emphasizes the necessity to rethink our approach to promoting and supporting breastfeeding. Limiting our perspective of breastfeeding to its health benefits overlooks its broader social and cultural significance. Oakley and O'Connor (2015) advocate for a compassionate approach to policy making, recognizing the intrinsic value of care giving and advocating for its rightful acknowledgment and compensation.


Re imagining breastfeeding as valuable care work requires a fundamental change in perspective that goes beyond traditional ideas of productivity and labor. By recognizing the inherent value of caregiving and implementing supportive policies and programs, we can foster a society that respects and enables mothers to make informed choices about how they feed their infants. Embracing breastfeeding as a fundamental aspect of maternal well-being and child health not only enhances individual families but also establishes the groundwork for a more just and empathetic society.


Conclusion: Empowering mothers, redefining care


In summary, the problems that accompany care giving, breastfeeding especially, embodies the intersection of motherhood, employment, and societal norms. 


Recognizing breastfeeding as valuable care work is not only essential for maternal and child health but also for fostering gender equity and social justice. 


As we navigate the complexities of modern parenthood, it is imperative to dismantle structural barriers and embrace a paradigm that values and supports all forms of caregiving. 


By empowering mothers and redefining care, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society for generations to come. If you're seeking guidance or support on your breastfeeding journey, don't hesitate to reach out to me, a certified lactation consultant and advocate. Together, let's work towards creating a world where every mother and child can thrive.


Your motherhood journey doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With the right support and guidance, you can work and breastfeed. If you feel this article spoke to you, reach out to me and together we can make a difference for the better in the modern world of breastfeeding. 


 

Viviane Schima, Certified Birth and Postpartum Doula, Breastfeeding Counselor, Childbirth Educator, Early Childhood Educator, and the Founder of ‘The Emotions Club’

Viviane believes in the power of informed choices, consent, and bodily autonomy, seeing them as the stepping stones to empowerment. 


As an enthusiastic and tireless advocate of breastfeeding, low-intervention births, and ‘skin-to-skin’ contact after birth, Viviane relies on evidence-based information while drawing inspiration from Eastern Holistic Healing Traditions to provide mothers with the support they deserve and the results they desire.

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