Maendeleo Group Blog

Tuesday, 08 May 2018 16:21

What its Really Like to Breastfeed and Pump in the United States

Written by Kate Krontiris

Maendeleo Group's Kate Krontiris Launches Ground Breaking New Book on What its Really Like to Breastfeed and Pump in the United States whose experiences and lessons on breastfeeding, pumping and equity are applicable globally and in particular Africa. Read more in her own words

 

For the past year, I have been engaged in the passion project of my life: surfacing stories of what it's really like to breastfeed and pump in the United States, in service of realizing true birth and breastfeeding equity in this country.

My own postpartum experience with our daughter Nyaanina is what led to this work and the result, 2 years later, is a book I'm very proud to share with you:

Speaking Our Truths: 27 Stories of What It's Really Like to Breastfeed and Pump in the United States

About the book

In the U.S., structural oppressions have rendered breastfeeding a luxury good: babies from well-off families get it, and other babies do not. Hospitals, medical professionals, public health agencies, insurance systems, product companies and workplaces are sending the message that “breast is best” – but the postpartum world nursing mothers must navigate burdens, degrades and isolates them. Those who do manage to establish breastfeeding go to extreme lengths to make it work.

If you don't have children, maybe you think this issue doesn't affect you – but the documented public health benefits of breastfeeding and paid family leave make this issue one that affects all of us.

Because our goal was to center equity in #breastfeedinginnovation, the stories in our book are focused on the triumphs and challenges of parents most harmed by societal disparities: parents of color, parents from low-income backgrounds, and parents who identify as LGBTQ. Between December and February, we interviewed more than 50 parents and care providers living in New England, the Southwest, California, and Mississippi, piecing together how key systems structure individual people’s reproductive journeys.

The main takeaway is clear: While breastfeeding is often framed as a personal choice, we find that parents’ individual agency is grossly limited by the infrastructures of support that should make that choice possible in the first place. The parents facing the difficult decision to breastfeed aren’t the problem. Instead, we need to change the social structures, institutions, and cultural norms that shape our options, mindsets, and experiences. These include a lack of paid leave, workplace hostilities toward breastfeeding, biases in medical care, classist norms of “breast is best,” and the impacts of inadequate support for breastfeeding.

The last chapter shares stories of success, in order to break down harmful stereotypes that only certain types of parents breastfeed. Our research showed what many of us already know: that parents from all walks of life can and do successfully breastfeed.

My request of you!

I hope that you share this book far and wide – with expectant parents, care providers, employers, your elected representatives ... whoever you think could help us realize a world where all families have an authentic choice to breastfeed their children. The introduction has some specific ideas for how this book can be used as a manual for change.

I would welcome your feedback and reactions, including any opportunities to share the findings of this work in targeted briefings with organizations that are interested in contributing to #breastfeedinginnovation and #breastfeedingequity.

Here are some of my favorite press pieces about this research and the recent "Make the Breast Pump Not Suck" hackathon and "Make Paid Leave Not Suck" policy summit that it informed:

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