Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Do we value puppies over babies?

"Fur-babies" is a thing. Some people, either childless or who have children grown and out of the home, prefer the company of pets to people. The number is a little old, but Americans spent 54 billion dollars in 2012 on pets. That's more than Facebook made in advertising that year.

In many states, it is illegal to separate a puppy from his or her mother before 8 weeks old. For other states, the law says 7 weeks. And still for other states, the law is not to separate until the puppy is fully weaned (which can take longer than 8 weeks for some breeds). The penalty for not obeying the law is usually a fine or short amount of jail time.

Why do states have these laws?

There are several reasons:
  • The most important is proper nourishment. A puppy needs its mom's milk for at least 7 weeks
  • Another reason is socialization and development. It often takes up to 12 weeks for a puppy to learn proper socialization from his mother and litter mates
  • Leaving the mom too early can also result in poor coordination and social skills

Taking a puppy away from his or her mom before six weeks is detrimental to that animal's health. They are more susceptible to disease and have higher rates of mortality.

We look at the reasoning for these laws and most people will think "That makes sense. It's just a puppy and it needs its mom until it weans".

Yet if we look at the laws as they pertain to human mothers and babies and mothers in the workforce who must be separated from their child, these arguments are thrown out the window.

Who do we value more?

Under the Family Medical Leave Act, mothers are guaranteed up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work. But that is only if the mother has worked at that company for at least 12 months prior to needing the time off and the employer has at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius. Depending on the size of the employer, allowing even 12 weeks off work is not a guarantee. Paid time off from work is not always a benefit. And when it is, that benefit rarely stretches beyond six weeks.

Many mothers are forced to return to work within weeks of having their child because they must have the income for their family. They cannot go without the paycheck and cannot risk losing their job. What does this do to the mother and child?

A mother is more in-tune to her baby and (excluding unusual circumstances) will care much more about her child than any other human being. It has been estimated that for each additional week of maternity leave, one in 2,000 infants are saved from death simply because the mother is there to attend to her child's needs. That may not sound like a lot, but it is pretty incredible to me that simply being in the care of the mother can prevent a death.

Mothers who are at home and can breastfeed on-demand are also more likely to breastfeed longer. It is recommended that an infant stay on breastmilk alone for at least four months (six months is even better). And breastmilk should be the primary source of nutrition for at least the first year of life. Yet when a mother returns to work after a few weeks and they have to pump to provide milk, the number of mothers able to keep up this routine drops. There is also evidence that pumped milk is not ever going to be as healthy as milk straight from the source. Human milk is meant to be consumed directly from the mother.

Mothers who return quickly to the workforce also have higher rates of postpartum depression. This depression can affect mothers in a variety of ways including negatively impacting her relationship with her child, her performance at work, and her breastmilk supply.

Even though it is illegal to separate a puppy from its mother before weaning, human mothers are expected to return to the workforce at least one month prior to the minimum recommended time that a human child have a diet of 100% breastmilk. The same reasons it is illegal to separate a puppy too early are the same reasons it is harmful for a mother to leave her child too soon for the workforce.

Why do we not give mothers and human babies the same treatment as dogs and puppies?

The main reason is the cost. Employers face many costs when a mother is on leave. First, the employer continues to supply medical coverage to the mother and now her child. Some employers also pay the mother some of her salary even though the mother is not at work. Finally, the employer often has to temporarily hire another person or have other employees cover for the mother who is out on leave. Either of those two options lowers productivity and raises costs.

What is the solution?

If mothers were to actually stay home until their child was at least partially weaned, then mothers would need 4-6 months at home with their child. 12 months would be optimal for the child's physical and social health. But who would pay for it?

The only options are the employers or the government.

If the employers start to pay for it, then surely mothers will find it even more difficult than it currently is to find employment.

If the government pays, well, we all know how that turns out. That means that the people are actually paying. So either taxes increase, the debt increases, and/or inflation increases as more money is printed. Either way, these options ultimately hurts lower and middle class people's pocket books.

None of these "solutions" are ideal and will result in hurting the people they were meant to help.

I propose that with advancements in technology that employers work to accommodate new mothers as much as possible. If her job allows, have the mother work from home for a few months or work from home at least part of the time (2-3 days/week).

If the mother's job does not allow for tele-commuting, then employers can make it as easy as possible for mothers to transition back to the workplace. Having a comfortable and available place to express breastmilk with ample time to do so is a good start. Giving mothers some extra time at lunch to go to their child's daycare to nurse them would also make this transition much easier for many mothers. Being able to see their child in the middle of the day and have one less time they have to pump breastmilk is huge for the mother and baby's emotional and physical health.

Of course the final solution would be for the mother to not work. Although it would be ideal for the mother to be free from work responsibilities for 6-12 months postpartum, this is not a viable option for all moms. Many women need their income. And many women can bring value to their workplace and love their career. But they also love their family. I do not think women can "have it all" (ie. the perfect family and career with zero challenges). But again, we can make this transition as painless and healthy as possible. Remember, this season won't last forever but the effects can have a lasting impact for both mother and baby.

The solution is ultimately up to our society. Do we value human mothers and babies as much as we value puppies?

I'm not asking for the government to get involved. I'm asking for people to think about it. Know that there are serious consequences to separating a mom from her baby too early. This is the next generation. Will we value and take care of them?

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