The Stars Are Aligned for a Bigger Push on Breastfeeding, and This Funder is On the Case

Breastfeeding is the ideal way to nourish infants, beginning with immune-building colostrum, evolving into true breast milk which supplies a balanced, readily digestible mix of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and fat. Breast milk wards off viral and bacterial infections, lowering an infant’s risk of developing asthma or allergies. It’s been shown to help forestall ear infections and respiratory illnesses. Psychologically, breast feeding has been linked to higher IQ scores and a greater sense of familial bonding. The activity also helps the mother by burning calories and releasing the hormone oxytocin, which helps restore a uterus to its pre-pregnancy size.

That all sounds great, right? But promoting breastfeeding is not exactly a burning priority of philanthropy. One funder that is in this area is the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, as we've reported before. Indeed, Kellogg is certainly among the biggest champions of breastfeeding within the foundation world, if not the biggest, and champions breast milk as "first food" within a broader frame of promoting healthy childhood development. 

A recent grant in this area is to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and aims to increase the knowledge of both practitioners and patients about the benefits of breastfeeding. The money is intended not just to collect information, but to disseminate it through materials that can increase breastfeeding rates.

The Kellogg effort coincides with two major social changes. The first is legal acceptance of breast feeding. Under the Affordable Care Act, women who are nursing must be given ‘‘a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk; and (B) a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

Didn't know about this little corner of the ACA, did you? We didn't either. 

The employer doesn’t have to pay for the break time and it doesn’t have to offer a break if it’s a small business with under 50 employees, and if doing so would create a hardship. Idaho is now the only state that does not allow women to explicitly breastfeed in any public or private location, although it does exempt nursing women from jury duty.

The second major change is in the practice of obstetrics and gynecology. A generation ago, the majority of OB-GYNs were male, but today, as more of them move toward retirement, they are being replaced by female OB-GYN residents, who are now the majority of providers. So the support the Kellogg Foundation is offering to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists will go primarily to women, toward a major women’s health issue.

In the 2014 Breastfeeding Report Card, published by the Centers for Disease Control, 79 percent of all infants born in the United States in 2011 started breast feeding, although after six months, the time frame most experts recommend for exclusive breast feeding, less than half of infants were still at it. Therein lies another key challenge.