Jane Gilmore says that 'Women are not just all about vaginas and cupcakes.' Jane takes issue with male politicians who talk about childcare as a matter for women and argues that the expectation that women always act as carers misses the point that men should take their part in the care economy. Jane concludes that politicians should see that women are interested in all matters of government.
Interestingly, Jane cites an article from 2013 about paternal leave provisions in Iceland. That article cites a 2013 article on paternal leave from the New York Times Magazine. A cartoon image accompanying that article shows a man raising his elbow with a baby bottle in his hand. Caution is required when drawing on US opinion given the extremely poor allowances made in that country for maternity leave.
In Australia, work by Karleen Gribble draws out the complexity of the whole context in which maternity and paternity leave needs to be considered. Karleen writes about the effects that different policies can have on supporting a mother's decision to breastfeed. Karleen writes:
Mothers know breastfeeding is important; 95% of mothers in Australia start breastfeeding. But it’s a time-intensive activity. The time spent breastfeeding gradually decreases after birth, but even at six months of age, breastfed infants feed for an average 2.5 hours a day.
It can be extremely difficult for mothers to maintain breastfeeding while they are working. The need to return to work prompts some women to introduce infant formula to their baby’s diet or stop breastfeeding altogether.
Only 60% of Australian babies are still breastfeeding at all at six months of age, and only 15% are exclusively breastfed to five months.
While there are many issues that factor into mothers' infant feeding decisions, it is no accident that the countries with the highest breastfeeding rates in the OECD are also countries with generous paid parental leave and workplace accommodations for breastfeeding women.
It is important to consider the ways in which empowering women for paid work may disempower women who intend to breastfeed. A 2010 study from Sweden concluded that two conditions were predictive of babies being less likely to be breastfed across infancy. These were - low socio-economic status of fathers and fathers not taking paternity leave:
enabling increased involvement from fathers during the infants’ first year of life, such as by paid paternity leave, may have beneficial effects on breastfeeding up to 6 months of age. A more systematic approach to supporting fathers’ involvement may be particularly valuable to those infants whose fathers have a lower socioeconomic status
A paper from 2015 argues for equity in breastfeeding support interventions while encouraging men to support the goal of exclusive breastfeeding till 6 months:
The protection, promotion, and support of breastfeeding is a cost-effective intervention that yields long-lasting results in health, welfare, and cognitive development across generations, with protective effects against noncommunicable conditions such as obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, or type II diabetes mellitus in adulthood.
Yet, greater emphasis on the equity implications of how policies and strategies are designed, implemented, and scaled up at national or decentralized levels can contribute to increase breastfeeding as a normative behavior, including exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of age, as endorsed by the World Health Assembly.
It can also encourage the involvement of other population groups, such as men, fathers, and children, as well as other sectors in this goal. Ensuring that breastfeeding-related interventions promote equity is critical to societal well-being and sustainable development.