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September 17, 2021  
UTERINE NEWS: Feature Story

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  • Mother’s Milk: At What Price?

    Mother’s Milk: At What Price?

    December 17, 2007

    By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1

    “It seems to me that the medical world of all places wouldn’t put up road blocks in front of a woman’s efforts to breast feed her child,” said Sharon Gonzales, new mother in Portland, Oregon. Gonzales’ six month old baby was premature and weighed three pounds at birth. Until the infant matured sufficiently to take milk directly from her mother’s breast, Gonzales had to pump her breasts and mix the milk with formula prescribed by her physician. “That’s about all I did right after she was born – deal with getting my milk expressed so she could have everything she needed to gain weight and strength. I can’t imagine people not doing everything they could to help other women who are trying to do the same thing for their babies. I feel sorry that the lady at Harvard had to go to take her case to court. I can’t imagine going through all that while you’re trying to see a new person into the world the best you can.”
    Take Action
    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains an English and Spanish helpline for breastfeeding questions. Call 1-800-994-9662, Monday through Friday, 9am to 6pm, EST. 10 Benefits of Breastfeeding:
  • Breast milk is perfectly formulated to babies’ nutritional and digestive needs.
  • Breastfed infants are leaner and may be less overweight later in life.
  • Breastfed babies score slightly higher on IQ tests, especially babies born prematurely.
  • Nursing helps mothers lose the pounds of pregnancy.
  • Breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
  • Breastfeeding saves time and money.
  • Breastfeeding helps a mother bond with her baby.
  • Mothers who breastfeed tend to have increased self-confidence.
  • Babies who are breastfed get sick less often.
  • Breastfeeding helps the environment by eliminating the need for packaged baby formulas.

  • Gonzales is talking about 33-year-old Sophie Currier, Harvard student who has completed a joint MD-PhD program. Before Currier began a residency in clinical pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital, she had to pass a nine-hour medical licensing exam. It was all of 15 minutes that took her to court: instead of the standard 45 minutes given to students, she asked for 60 minutes in order to have time to pump breast milk for her baby. The National Board of Medical Examiners refused. Currier sued and won in the state Appeals Court, a ruling that the Board planned to appeal.

    “Very few women in the United States breast feed beyond a few months, if indeed they breast feed at all,” Janet Golden, PhD, specialist in medical history at Rutgers University-Camden and author of A Social History of Wet Nursing: From Breast to Bottle, told the Harvard University Press publicity blog. “That’s because we lack paid parental leave, a national health system based on preventive care, and sound child health policies.”

    Golden explains that even though “it turns out that human milk is the best food for human infants,” public information about the benefits of breast feeding is sorely lacking in the United States. “The crux of the matter is that the federal government surrendered to industry interests – the 3-billion-dollar-a-year formula industry – and in doing so, denied citizens vital public health information about breast feeding. That censorship essentially squelched a much needed discussion about public health and public policy.”

    Whether Currier would have needed to take the National Board of Medical Examiners to court if the subject of breast feeding was more visible in the public debate is anyone’s guess. Yet connections between the general lack of support for breastfeeding in this country and the initial disallowing of Currier to have a miniscule extra 15 minutes seem more than tenuous. Clearly the subject of breastfeeding will continue to be controversial as American women try to meld being mothers with their careers and professional aspirations.

    Last updated: 17-Dec-07

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