Puppies and Babies

Throughout my research on the issue of unpaid Maternity Leave in the US I have come across many conflicting views on who is responsible and what is reasonable. I find that many people want to turn the discussion into a political issue when it is truly everyone’s issue. I have come to a conclusion on a solid jumping off point based on a common thread in opinion: Let’s start by adopting the same standards for baby and mother humans as we do for puppies and dogs.

Let me tell you how I got to this point. My husband is a hunter. I can barely be in the same room as a gun. The idea of walking through the woods freezing my buns off to wait patiently to kill an animal escapes me. Tomato, tomahto.

When my husband and I started dating we had a long distance relationship while I was in New York City and he lived in Florida to work with his father’s roofing crew.  In an attempt to domesticate me, Chris bought me two chihuahua/terrier rescue puppies, Peanut and Brutus.

Little did Chris know that we would get married, move to Minnesota where he could hone his skills as a hunter, and the Chihuahuas would live to be 13-years-old and counting…

Like any good bird hunter, Chris can hardly wait to get his own hunting pup to raise, train, and fetch while he marches around in the tall grasses of South Dakota. The deal we have however is “No puppies until the Chihuahuas pass or at least until we have all babies out of diapers.” One family can only be consumed by so much poop at one time. After a certain point it becomes just ridiculous I think we’re there.

Although Chris’s dreams of fully transforming into Jeremiah Johnson are temporarily on hold, one can dream and do research in the meantime. Besides, Chris has never had a puppy so the “new dad” will need to prepare for what’s ahead.

So much of raising a puppy is similar to having a newborn baby. As is similar with taking care of humans, there are many schools of thought as to what is right and what is wrong. For instance, some say hunting pups should learn to sleep in their kennel from the beginning and get used to it as their own safe space. Some say kennels create too much stress for a young pup because they are used to sleeping with other dogs and should sleep in a box next to the master’s bed. Many say dogs should be trained with positive reenforcement using treats every time they do what they’re told. Others say you must exert force and strength with your dog from the very beginning to establish an understanding of who the Alpha is and where the pup sits on the hierarchical totem pole.

One thing that all dog owners can agree on however is that no puppy should ever be separated from its mother until they are 8-10 weeks old.

This is an observation that has come up in many discussions on unpaid leave. Puppies are encouraged to nurse from their mother for 7-8 weeks (until they can eat solid food)  in order to provide long-term health benefits and opportunity to thrive. There have also been studies that show that the longer a puppy stays with its mother and litter, the stronger and more secure its social and behavior skills become.

The American Board of Pediatrics recommends that a human baby nurse from her mother for the first 12 months of life for optimal health, social, and behavioral outcomes. Breastfeeding however does not come naturally or easily to all mothers. In order to experience “let down” or proper, fatty hind milk flow a mother must be in a stress free environment and state of mind in order to allow the hormonal release of oxytocin to do it’s job. If stress occurs in the form of rushed schedule, distraction, pain, or anxiety from being separated from the infant, cortisol the stress hormone is released and complicates the body’s nursing relationship.

We advocate for the health and opportunity to thrive for puppies in this country. When it comes to mothers of humans adhering to medically supported recommendations that take 52 weeks to accomplish, we encourage them with “are you taking 6 weeks? Good for you! That will be so nice.”

What the actual F.

Many still think the discussion regarding the need for paid maternity leave in the US is one rooted in entitlement and greed.

We forget to look at the shockingly high infant and maternal mortality rates in our country or the simple fact that our economy needs women to both work and have babies.

We neglect the fact that babies whose mothers have access to paid leave are more likely to attend frequent first-year appointments, protecting all of us from the spread of contagious disease.

We ignore the detail that in 41% of American homes WOMEN are the sole or primary breadwinners a much higher number than “back in the day when ‘we’ had kids” and that these women cannot afford to utilize the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) even if they qualify because 12 weeks of unpaid leave (3 months of virtual unemployment) is difficult if not impossible for sole income providers to afford. Perhaps that’s why the idea of Paternity leave remains a joke to most. It’s difficult for many to justify the breadwinner of a family taking unpaid time off of work to support the emotional, physical, and mental needs of their growing family. That’s just ridiculous.

Women have to make that choice for not only their own care, but the care of their family every day. It’s not that they want to go back to work still bleeding from childbirth, they simply can’t afford otherwise and besides, “it was their choice,” right?

These points in the conversation are simply just the tip of the iceberg and in a world of flippant comments on the internet I would rather save these discussions for my book- stay tuned! In the meantime, I encourage us all to consider the same baseline on this discussion for the sake of our most vulnerable citizens.

For now, I suggest we all consider raising our standards to that of dogs.