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Paternity Leave—Not Just Maternity Leave—Is Crucial Support for Breastfeeding

I’m having a miserable day. So miserable that I feel an urgent necessity to write this post.

Earlier this week, my husband flew to Asia for work on the day our new baby turned 6 weeks old. At this age, the baby still eats every two to three hours, and sleeps only a few hours at a time, day or night. Surely I always get out of the bed much more quickly than my husband when our baby cries in the middle of the night, but still, breastfeeding is much easier when there is someone who does the laundry, washes the dishes, and watches the older children.

My husband is a supportive partner and has been doing all these for me—until he has to return to work six weeks after the baby was born. Now on top of breastfeeding every three hours, I’m cooking, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, and running after our 4-year-old. I’m ridiculously tired. Right now I’m covered in spit-up, which really adds insult to injury when being sleep-deprived. Unfortunately, I don’t have the energy to do anything about it. So I’m sitting here, with the baby in my left arm, and typing this article with my right hand.

And that’s not a bad version of what most working parents in the US experience. At least my husband has six weeks of paid family leave. According to OECD, out of 41 countries, the US is the only one that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents. The Family Medical Leave Act ensures that women cannot lose their jobs for 12 weeks after having a baby, provided the company they work for has more than 50 employees. It does not concern itself with how to cover the parent’s lost earnings. Only 16% of employers offer fully-paid maternity leave, fewer offer paid paternity leave.

And paternity leave—not just maternity leave—is crucial for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is team work; it actually takes three people—mom, baby, and dad—to breastfeed. Research shows that the chance of a baby being breastfed for six months is significantly higher if the dad supports breastfeeding. Among other things, a supportive father can offer rest, food, water, and encouragement. Paid paternity leave can empower dads to be supportive dads.

When it comes to baby feeding, the science is clear—there’s nothing better than breastmilk for baby, mom and the environment. Breastfed babies get fewer infections, mother who breastfeed have lower risk of osteoporosis, and breastfeeding leaves no foot print. However, breastfeeding would never work without paid family leave.

My husband is flying home next week. I miss him. He is a very hands-on dad. He burbs and holds our baby after each feeding, he reads with our 4-year-old every evening. I only wish men in this country could have a longer paternity leave. Japanese fathers have 30 weeks. Korean dads have 16 weeks. I’d be happy with just 12 weeks.

To-wen TsengPaternity Leave—Not Just Maternity Leave—Is Crucial Support for Breastfeeding