Breastfeeding isn't free: Study reveals 'hidden cost' associated with the practice
Pediatricians and other breastfeeding advocates often encourage new mothers to breastfeed their babies for at least the first six months of their infants' lives based on the purported health benefits to both mothers and children. Many breastfeeding proponents also argue that breastfeeding has financial advantages over formula-feedingbreastfeeding is free, they say. But, according to a new study, the notion that there's no cost associated with breastfeeding for the recommended amount of time is patently untrue.
"Breastfeeding for six months or longer is only free if a mother's time is worth absolutely nothing," said Mary C. Noonan, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Iowa, and coauthor of the study, "Is Breastfeeding Truly Cost Free? Income Consequences of Breastfeeding for Women," which appears in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.
The study relies on a nationally representative sample of 1,313 first-time mothers in the United States, who were in their 20s or 30s when they gave birth between 1980 and 1993 and who were employed in the year before their first children were born. Noonan and Phyllis L. F. Rippeyoung, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Canada's Acadia University, found that formula-feeders (i.e., mothers who never breastfed), short-duration breastfeeders (i.e., mothers who breastfed for fewer than six months), and long-duration breastfeeders (i.e., mothers who breastfed for six months or longer) all experienced earnings losses after giving birth. However, on average, long-duration breastfeeders experienced much steeper and more prolonged earnings losses than did mothers who breastfed for shorter durations or not at all.
"When people say breastfeeding is free, I think their perspective is that one doesn't have to buy anything to breastfeed whereas one needs to purchase formula and bottles to formula-feed," Rippeyoung said. "But, this simplistic view doesn't take into consideration the hidden cost: the substantial income women often lose when they breastfeed for a long duration. To me, I see it as being highly related to how women's unpaid work has always been undervalued."
According to the study, long-duration breastfeeders sacrificed considerable income after giving birth compared to short-duration breastfeeders and formula-feeders, largely because long-duration breastfeeders were more likely to switch to part-time work or to leave the workforce entirely.
"We see that the ability to intensively mother via long-duration breastfeeding is class-biased," Noonan said. "Women who breastfeed tend to be white, college educated, and married. Additionally, on average, women who breastfeed are more likely to be married to college-educated men, men who can financially facilitate women taking time out of the labor force."
The authors noted that there are extremely few datasets that consider both breastfeeding and women's work behaviors. "There are some longitudinal datasets that look at breastfeeding and parenting, but we needed longitudinal data that included information on both breastfeeding and women's work behaviors," Rippeyoung said. "Very recent data with that type of information proved difficult to come by. We hope this study will encourage people to collect newer data looking at breastfeeding and work behaviors, so that we can determine whether the trends we see from mothers who gave birth in the 1980s and early 90s still hold true today. However, there is little to make us believe the trends would be very different."
As for the study's policy implications, Rippeyoung and Noonan said their research highlights the need to consider federal legislation that would more broadly protect the rights of all mothers to breastfeed at the workplace and compensate them for the unpaid labor associated with this type of infant feeding, especially if the government is going to continue to push for women to breastfeed. Until 2010, the authors said, no federal legislation existed in this arena, which meant that employers were not bound by federal law to accommodate or not discriminate against breastfeeding mothers. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 includes limited protections for breastfeeding that simply ensure women get breaks to express their breast milk during the work day and have non-bathroom space where this activity can take place.
"Currently, breastfeeding promotion focuses almost exclusively on encouraging women to breastfeedwithout providing adequate economic and social supports to facilitate the practicea reality that helps reproduce gender, class, and racial inequality," Rippeyoung said. "Legislation more supportive of breastfeeding would include paid parental leave and onsite daycares. Unless these or other policies are put in place, formula-feeding will continue to be the only realistic option for many women in the United States."
Journal reference: American Sociological Review
Provided by American Sociological Association
- Cancer fund promotes breastfeeding benefit Apr 29, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- Warning to breastfeeding mothers Apr 15, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Breastfeeding benefits mothers with reduced blood pressure risk Nov 02, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Black mothers cite lack of desire as top reasons for not breastfeeding Oct 04, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Very few low-income moms meet breastfeeding recommendations Mar 15, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Classical and Quantum Mechanics via Lie algebras
Apr 15, 2011 I'd like to open a discussion thread for version 2 of the draft of my book ''Classical and Quantum Mechanics via Lie algebras'', available online at http://lanl.arxiv.org/abs/0810.1019 , and for the...
- More from Physics Forums - Independent Research
More news stories
(Medical Xpress)—Health care spending is much higher for older Americans than for younger adults and children, on average, and analysts have said that increasing spending leads to longer life expectancy.
Health 2 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(Medical Xpress)—High blood pressure is something that has traditionally been a problem in Scotland, but might there be a link to our climate?
Health 2 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(Medical Xpress)—A report published today shows a 2.6% decrease in the amount of alcohol sold per adult in Scotland in the year following the introduction of the Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Act in October 2011.
Health 2 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
New mothers throughout Australia are needed to help QUT sleep researchers investigate whether the disrupted sleep experienced by mothers when caring for their new baby raises the risk of injury while driving.
Health 4 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
The new 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) appears to be as safe as the previous version used prior to 2010, the 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7), according to a Kaiser Permanente study published ...
33 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
Research presented today shows that high-fructose corn syrup can cause behavioural reactions in rats similar to those produced by drugs of abuse such as cocaine. These results, presented by addiction expert Francesco Leri, ...
1 hour ago | 4 / 5 (1) | 0
Is it permissible to harm one to save many? Those who tend to say "yes" when faced with this classic dilemma are likely to be deficient in a specific kind of empathy, according to a report published in the scientific journal ...
6 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—Scientists supported by the National Institutes of Health have a new theory as to why a woman's fertility declines after her mid-30s. They also suggest an approach that might help slow ...
3 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
Phthalates: Study links chemicals widely found in plastics, processed food to elevated blood pressure in children, teens
Plastic additives known as phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are odorless, colorless and just about everywhere: They turn up in flooring, plastic cups, beach balls, plastic wrap, intravenous tubing and—according to the ...
7 hours ago | not rated yet | 1 |
Medical researchers discover new ways to target, develop and design drugs to prevent and treat viral infection
Researchers at the University of Alberta have discovered a new drug target, developed a new drug and identified a new way to design drugs—all of which could be a winning combination in the battle against viruses.
3 hours ago | 4 / 5 (1) | 0 |