In praise of breast milk

There’s a lot to be said for breast milk. Did I get your attention? Well, I probably did better than Congress has in trying to explain to us the new health-care bill that they just passed. One thing you might not know about the new bill is that it is very supportive of breast milk. Or at least a woman’s right to express it at the workplace.Under the new bill, U.S. workplaces with more than 50 employees will be required to provide nursing moms in their workforce unpaid break time to express breast milk, along with a private room (other than a restroom) for them to use while they express it.There’s actually some sound and solid logic and mounds of research behind this move. Here’s what we know is certain: Breastfeeding provides substantial long-term health benefits to both mothers and babies.According to several international studies, we know that women who breastfeed are less likely to get breast cancer. Breastfeeding reduces their risk of ovarian or uterine cancer and substantially lessens their chances of having osteoporosis. In addition, women who breastfeed are quicker to lose weight gained during the pregnancy and tend to have better postpartum emotional health.The bottom line on all this is that making it easier for your female employees to breastfeed may reduce their sick days and the drain on your health-care costs. That’s good business. But an even more important reason to support breastfeeding is the research on its benefits to breastfed children.Breastfed children are less likely to have a host of childhood illnesses, including ear infections, stomach viruses and asthma. They are also less likely than formula-fed babies to develop leukemia and diabetes, or to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). To a researcher like me, those are convincing arguments.

Workplace benefitsThere are obvious cost benefits to breastfeeding. Most estimates say that in the first year of life, formula-fed babies will require about $475 more in medical care during that year than babies who are breastfed.In addition, breastfeeding saves a family, on average, between $1,160 and $3,915 per year over formula feeding.Not every mother, of course, chooses to breastfeed, or can. However, many mothers have chosen not to breastfeed because their work environment makes it inconvenient or impossible, and those women will have strong support under the new health-care reform measures.Remember, when you invest in family-friendly work place policies, you are benefiting your own company. Providing a breastfeeding-friendly workplace benefits not only the breastfeeding women who work for you, it helps prevent costly health-care problems for those babies, reducing maternal absenteeism and lessening the strain on the nation’s rising health-care costs.Me, I’m all for breastfeeding. How about you? For more information on breastfeeding and its benefits go to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site at: or visit Malcolm Smith is family life and family policy specialist with UNH Cooperative Extension and teaches in the University of New Hampshire Family Studies Program. He can be reached at 603-862-7008, or