Breast pumps are flying off the shelves, and manufacturers have Obamacare to thank for their recent increase in sales. I'm happy about the increased support for breastfeeding women. But had the provision in the Affordable Care Act allowing coverage for breastfeeding equipment and services passed a few months earlier, when my son was born, it would not have made a difference for women like me. I stopped breastfeeding after five weeks.
Don't get me wrong. I would have loved to have had my insurance company cover my pump, which cost $300 not including accessories. I had every intention of breastfeeding. Constant battles with mastitis made me change my plans. When my son had a severe reaction to the antibiotic I needed to take to recover -- a four-foot projectile diarrhea and complete loss of skin on his rear end kind of reaction -- I decided to be a healthy mom rather than just a breastfeeding one. Nurturing is more than milk, after all.
My decision to stop breastfeeding wasn't devastating for me. It had been a pretty miserable experience from the beginning that, for me, took away from the joy of having a baby. But the decision to stop definitely came with plenty of guilt. Every morning when I made my son's bottles, that guilt sunk in a little deeper as the warning label on the package of formula reminded me the experts agree that breast milk is best. Every day at work, I walk by the nursing room that my employer built for me (that's right -- built for me), and the guilt bubbles to the surface, again and again.
Back when I was pregnant, I read all of the books you are supposed to read and mocked the free can of formula that I received in the mail. Breastfeeding was the only option, and I never questioned how that assumption had been drilled into my head.
But when reality struck, I had to quickly change tack. On the night my son was born, my husband and I had been awake for 24 hours. We asked the nurse to take the baby for a few hours so that we could get some sleep.
I still recall the look of horror on her face. Her hand flew to her chest, and she said, "You mean, you want us to give him a bottle?" Forgive us, nurse, for apparently we had sinned.
Two weeks later, when I developed my first case of mastitis, a friend in nursing school said, "You're going to keep breastfeeding though, right?"
Given that formula was an acceptable alternative when my mother nursed me, I started to wonder: when and why did formula and bottles become evil? I read all about the 1970s Nestle scandal that got third-world mothers hooked on formula, resulting in the deaths of millions of babies due to contaminated water and the high costs of the product. At the same time, new scientific researched emerged about the benefits of breast milk. By 1981, the World Health Organization adopted a resolution to regulate how milk-substitute companies could market their goods, which resulted in, among other things, the warning labels on every container of formula.
My husband, who is a quantitative analyst, offered another explanation. Money, he said. If there is money to be made, an industry will follow and flourish.
The lactivist literature assures you that breastfeeding will, among other benefits, save you money. The pregnancy books alarm you with estimated costs of formula and bottles which will cost you and your infant, they remind you, in more than dollars.
Breast milk may be free, but there are still costs, particularly for women who want to pump. The recent increase in sales tells us that most women do. According to BabyCenter, a hospital-grade electric pump costs more than $1,000, which is why most women rent them for $30 to $90 a month. But if you rent, you still need to purchase the accessories, which range from $30 to $60. The cost of a high-end electric pump ranges from $100 to $350. A manual or battery-operated pump costs between $20 and $150. Then there are accessories like nipples shields, nipples creams, nursing bras and cover ups to nurse in public. The cute ones will run you up to $50.
And what if you need help from a trained expert? According to Best for Babes, a breastfeeding blog, a single session with a lactation consultant in the U.S. ranges from $120 to $200. That is not to say that lactation consultants do not deserve their fees. They are trained healthcare professionals, but let's not forget that they are also running a business. The Affordable Care Act may allow for coverage, but as the Washington Post reports, many lactation consultants refuse to join forces with insurance companies because the reimbursement rate is too low.
While many breastfeeding moms across the country are celebrating the new health care law, not every woman thinks it is great. Amy Alkon with Men's News Daily has been trying to opt out of maternity coverage on her health insurance plan for years. She asks: If you decide to have kids, why should everyone pay for your breast pump?
While Alkon's point is one that not many mothers in America are likely to get behind, it's not a point to be ignored, since the cost of covering breastfeeding equipment and support will likely come back to the policy holders, as a recent article in the Examiner notes.Insurance companies will not be compensated for breastfeeding services from the government. Instead, they will need to determine how to offset the costs, which will likely be in the form of higher premiums.
Many breastfeeding activists claim that a breastfeeding industry does not exist. There is no money to be made from breastfeeding, they say. If there is no money to be made, why is there new legislation that forces health insurance companies to cover the associated costs?
Of course the formula industry is more than thriving, and milk substitutes have significant costs. My husband and I spend about $150 a month on the powdered product. In the long run, we could very well spend more on formula than we did on all of the breastfeeding supplies I purchased, which are now collecting dust in my closet.
But putting the breast milk vs. formula battle aside, the time has come to acknowledge that in addition to the formula industry, a breastfeeding industry is alive and well. Let's just hope that it is supporting parents out there and not driving them to make blind decisions--like I nearly did.
Follow Elizabeth Clements on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lizziejane7