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Should Breastfeeding Moms Be Paid?

Photograph by iStockphoto

Breastfeeding enthusiasts can rattle off a long list of breastfeeding benefits: it's good for the baby, reduces the risk of SIDS, helps moms lose weight (though that's only true for 20% of moms) and if nothing else, it's cheaper than formula. As a matter of fact, they claim, it's free!

Well, ladies, aside from the hidden costs of breastfeeding, I would like to propose that we stop selling ourselves short by claiming that nursing a baby is the cheaper alternative to formula. Saying that breastfeeding is free completely undermines how much time and energy is invested my nursing and pumping moms, not to mention the incidental costs incurred.

As a matter of fact, I am going to go out on a limb and say that anyone who calls breastfeeding free is downright disrespectful to mothers, and setting back the equal rights movement.

Think I'm crazy? Let's have a look at the numbers and then you can decide for yourself.

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Basic Salary: starting at $22,000 per year

A breastfeeding or pumping session usually takes between 10-30 minutes and can occur up to 10 times a day. That's 5 hours of unpaid labor per day for feedings, not to mention the burping, pumping, and cleaning and sterilizing of the pump parts and bottles. I'm going to go ahead and average the pay of a milk cow and a Whole Foods employee (they are expert cleaners), which would still come out around minimum wage. Now, over seven days a week (since moms get no paid vacation or time off), and nursing moms should easily get paid more than $20,000 per year, not including benefits or retirement.

Overtime Pay: $11 per hour

Is your baby going through a growth spurt? Sick? Or maybe you're just traveling and baby can't sleep unless it's being held and nursed. Well, for anyone else working overtime or late at night means more money!

So, as you can see, if nursing moms were paid even just a minimum wage (and we all know they deserve so much more!), you would never, ever call breastfeeding "free" again.

Retainer: $1,000+ per month

Think overtime pay sounds good? Well, in the non-nursing world, people don't agree to work these kinds of crazy hours unless they are on retainer, and let's face it: every breastfeeding mom getting up for the 100th time that night has thought about bailing on the job. You deserve a retainer!

A senior care manager receives anywhere between $1-8,000 per month for their services: feeding, administering medicine, changing diapers and clothing and going to doctor's visits. Should you be paid more than them, or less? Their patients are much bigger and can be meaner, but inmost instances they don't bite or pinch your boobs or scratch your face. Tough call. You'll have to take that one up with the boss.

Physical Toll

There is no way to put a number on the physical toll that ongoing sleep deprivation has on the body, but my guess is, it isn't cheap… Perhaps we could argue for a $300-500 a month bonus to cover health insurance?

So, as you can see, if nursing moms were paid even just a minimum wage (and we all know they deserve so much more!), you would never, ever call breastfeeding "free" again. It's hard work, and even if there isn't a budget for these moms, they deserve a lot more respect than they are often given.

What's more, those moms who can't or won't breastfeed deserve a break. Yes, breastfeeding is great for your kid, but not everyone can afford the financial, emotional or time costs associated with it.

If we can agree that breastfeeding is expensive, perhaps even a luxury in this modern world where moms are expected to do everything, we immediately level the playing fields for all mothers.

RELATED: I No Longer Feel Like a Breastfeeding Failure

Rather than shaming those who can't afford it, by agreeing that breastfeeding is worth a lot, we create more opportunities for mom to take on the job, if even part-time: more support, more nursing spaces, more Facebook groups, more media coverage, and more celebrations.

Throughout history, women have proven that they can rise above any challenge, and in many cases, do it all. So why not get paid for it? And even if payment is not an option for this labor of love, let's demand some respect for all of the hard work that is involved.

Photo via Flickr user Mothering Touch.

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