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What Do Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama Have in Common?

Posted: 02/21/11 10:40 AM ET

There's not a lot of love between right and left these days, but one thing politicians of every stripe agree about is breastfeeding, at least when it comes to their own families. Michelle Obama says she breastfed her daughters, bringing her younger one to work at eight months so she could keep nursing. Representative Michele Bachmann breastfed five kids, and Sarah Palin nursed all of her children as well. They all recognized how important breastfeeding is, and they all had the resources and determination to stick with it.

Strong as Obama, Palin and Bachmann are, these powerful and well-educated women were not successful at breastfeeding simply because of their own fortitude. Like most women who stick with breastfeeding, they had help: a good start at the hospital, flexible work environments that allowed them to bring their babies to work with them or use a breast pump to maintain their milk supply, and of course husbands and families who supported them.

Palin's teenage daughter Bristol wasn't so lucky. Even though her mom was very supportive, she stopped breastfeeding early because her school did not offer the same kind of support and she couldn't access her newborn to nurse so easily.

First Lady Michelle Obama wants to make sure breastfeeding becomes part of her Let's Move campaign, because the research clearly shows that it protects against obesity in both moms and kids. She says she'll focus on the very real institutional barriers people like Bristol Palin have faced when they decide to breastfeed, but find it difficult to persist.

These include lack of accurate information (thanks to intensive direct marketing by formula makers), common maternity practices that undermine breastfeeding, such as separating mothers and babies, and challenges of persisting with breastfeeding at low-wage workplaces -- including having a decent breast-pump and a clean and private place to use it.

Sarah Palin agreed with this approach when she was governor of Alaska, and decreed that, "government and community organizations have a vested interest in protecting and promoting breastfeeding as a means of preventing infant malnutrition, morbidity, and mortality."

Now, however, the media and blogosphere are reporting snarky comments from both Palin and Bachmann about the first lady's breastfeeding campaign. But it's important to correct those misleading headlines. Tea Party conservatives may dislike tax deduction schemes (Bachmann) and "nanny state" campaigns (Palin) but they are absolutely clear about being strong supporters of breastfeeding. And that's huge.

What we need now is huge support for Michelle Obama's efforts to remove barriers to breastfeeding, so that every woman who wants to breastfeed can do so, just like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann did.

This blog is part of the Peaceful Revolution series that explores innovative ideas to strengthen America's families through public policies, business practices, and cultural change. Done in collaboration with MomsRising.org, read a new post here each week.