How the U.S. healthcare system is failing new mothers who want to breastfeed: report
Even with the gains of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare — which has brought health insurance to millions of previously uninsured Americans and enjoyed record enrollment in 2022 — the United States continues to lag behind Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan when it comes to health care outcomes and life expectancy.
The health care system in the U.S. is challenging in a variety of ways, from preventative care — access to dental checkups, colonoscopies, weight management programs — to Type 1 diabetics being able to afford their insulin. One thing that isn’t talked about as much during discussions of health and wellness in the U.S. is lower breastfeeding rates, but according to Vox reporter Dylan Scott, that problem is underscored by the infant formula shortage the U.S. is presently suffering.
“One of the more crass responses to the ongoing formula shortage has been that mothers worried about empty shelves where their infant’s formula used to be should just breastfeed instead,” Scott explains in an article published by Vox on June 17. “Breastfeeding alone would never be enough. The reality is there are families for whom breastfeeding is not an option, for medical or lifestyle reasons, and many more for whom it is not enough on its own.”
Scott continues, “But it’s also true that the U.S. doesn’t do all that it could to support mothers who want to breastfeed their children. Instead, the patchwork of the U.S. health system, the pernicious influence of special interests, and a failure especially to support marginalized families have put the country at a disadvantage compared to other wealthy nations, feeding a national dependence on formula that left the country more vulnerable in the most recent shortage and would make another factory failure equally damaging.”
The U.S., Scott observes, continues to be an “outlier” among developed countries when it comes to “breastfeeding rates.”
“One 2005 OECD report placed the U.S. 24th out of 28 countries in the percentage of its children who have ever breastfed,” Dylan notes. “Breastfeeding rates in the United States and worldwide have been growing since then —
part of a concerted global public health campaign — but the U.S. still lags behind much of the rest of the industrialized world. In particular, while the country has done a better job of getting new moms to attempt breastfeeding when their child is first born, some of those parents struggle to maintain the practice.”
Scott adds, “About 80% of American children have breastfed at least once, but the percentages still doing so exclusively at three months, about 45%, and the American Academy of Pediatrics-recommended six months, less than 30%, are substantially lower.”
This “dramatic dropoff,” according to Scott, “reflects the failures of the U.S. health system to support women who are trying to breastfeed their children.”
“Some of the problems that contribute to low breastfeeding rates are familiar American health care woes,” Scott explains. “Too many Americans don’t have health insurance or regular access to a doctor or lactation consultant who could help them work through rough patches. They might not have paid family leave, which the U.S. does not guarantee. Their employer may not provide them time and space to pump breast milk once they go back to work.”
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