New research suggests moms take a financial hit when they breast feed longer.
Even though breast-feeding is recommended for at least the first six months of a baby’s life, doing so comes at a cost – at least for the mom who can expect lower career earnings. That’s the conclusion of a new study.
The study found that women who breast-feed for more than six months will see their earnings drop in the first year of their baby’s life versus a woman who breast-feeds for a shorter period or who formula-feeds their child. The earnings gap continues for at least five years after the baby is born.
As of 2007, about 75 percent of American mothers started out breast-feeding, but only 43 percent of women breast-feed for at least six months. The researchers looked at more than 1,300 women who had their first child between 1980 and 1993, held an outside job before having their baby and didn’t have multiple births.
The results showed a big drop in earnings in mothers that breast-fed for longer period of time. The researchers found that in the year before the birth of their child, the mothers-to-be (who went on to breast-feed their child for longer periods of time) earned, on average, $20,957 a year, compared with the $16,790 earned by formula-feeders and the $21,602 per year earned by women who would end up breast-feeding for less than six months.
Five years after the birth, the formula-feeding mothers were making an average of $16,340 each year, while short-term breast-feeding moms were making an average of $19,226. Moms who breast-fed more than six months were making only $15,717, less than anybody else.
Breast-feeding and the workplace
The researchers went on to try and determine exactly why the women who breast-fed longer earned less. When hours worked and employment status was taken into account, differences between mothers disappeared – suggesting that the reason long-term breast-feeding moms earn less is that they work less. What the study doesn’t reveal is why this is the case. Moms who plan to breast-feed long-term might also have planned to leave the work permanently anyway, they theorize. Or moms who breast-feed long-term might find their workplaces unsupportive and get pushed out of the workforce.
The researchers also found that women who breast-feed for the long-term are on average wealthier, more educated and less likely to be minorities than women who don’t. The current study found that the husbands of women who chose to breast-feed longer were higher-earners than husbands of non-breast-feeders.
The researchers emphasized that they were not trying to tell women what to do, but to provide information for public-health experts and other policymakers who would like to promote the health benefits of breast-feeding. They say that family-friendly workplace offerings like support services like onsite daycare or paid maternity leave could make a big difference for women who are trying to juggle their baby’s needs with the need for income.
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Published in: Family