Despite the best efforts of government, industry and health organizations to encourage breastfeeding, a proportion of mothers in the U.S. cannot or choose not to breastfeed for a number of reasons. Additionally, efforts to increase breastfeeding duration in the U.S. would be most productive by addressing a major barrier to breastfeeding -- the lack of workplace support programs.
In the U.S., working women are entitled up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave; however, many mothers return to work during the early months of their baby's life and most U.S. workplaces do not provide support for breastfeeding mothers to continue the practice. According to a 2002 survey of mothers regarding infant feeding practices, breastfeeding rates at six months are 25% lower for mothers employed full-time outside the home compared to mothers employed part-time or not employed outside the home
Those breastfeeding mothers who return to work full-time often find it difficult to continue breastfeeding at their place of employment. There are several major factors that affect full-time employment and breastfeeding:
All of these factors contribute to the decreased rates of breastfeeding upon a woman's return to work. Further, working class mothers have additional challenges continuing to breastfeed at work because they are paid hourly rates and therefore do not have flexibility in their schedules to take frequent unpaid pumping breaks nor enough job security to ask for change. Thus, the real objective for any policy intended to increase breastfeeding duration should address improving maternity leave and lactation conditions in the workplace. One recent study has suggested that workplace change can have a very powerful effect on breastfeeding duration, as women who worked in a breastfeeding-friendly environment had much higher rates of continued breastfeeding after one year than the national average.