Breastfeeding is beneficial for both mother and child, about that there is no doubt.
Not only does breastfeeding significantly reduce an infant’s risk of contracting infections, a multitude of studies and pediatricians say, but it also strengthens the bond between mother and child during life’s most innocent stage. Breastfeeding is about good health, but also about getting a good start in life. Not every new mother can breastfeed, or for good and understandable reasons chooses to, but it should be an option to the greatest extent possible.
Yet the United States, according to a 2016 study by the Los Angeles-based World Policy Analysis Center, is among the few advanced nations of the world that has no law supporting this most basic human practice. Family leave laws are hit-and-miss among the American states and nonexistent at the federal level.
Either one of two bills pending in Congress — one sponsored by Republicans, the other by Democrats — would be a good step toward addressing the problem. Republicans have introduced the Strong Families Act, providing a two-year tax credit for businesses that give employees at least two weeks paid leave. The Democrats’ more generous FAMILY Act calls for 12 weeks of partial pay (up to 66 percent) for all workers in all companies.
While the United States lags far behind on this issue, truth be told, no country sufficiently supports breastfeeding moms, according to a recent study by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. But breastfed babies have at least a six times greater chance of survival than babies who were not, UNICEF contends, and for the mother, breastfeeding reduces the risk of postpartum depression as well as breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
For now, Illinois gets by with the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid time off. Companies also can choose to provide paid time off, of course, but a 2015 report by the Department of Labor found that only 12 percent of private-sector employees are offered that perk.
The Illinois law obviously is inadequate, given the importance of family leave for parents trying to meet all the challenges that come with having a new baby. A better step forward would be a federal family leave law.
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