Much ado is being made of a study in the The American Sociological Review which showed that women pay a steep economic price for breasfeeding their babies.
That’s kind of a “well, duh!” statement, I realize. It’s no surprise—early motherhood is rarely an economic boom-time for any woman, particularly for those women who have to quit work to have a baby, or who don’t receive some kind of paid maternity leave. All that bonding comes at a cost.
The study found that breastfeeding doesn’t penalize all nursing mothers equally, though. “Short-duration” breastfeeders (ie, less than 6 months) and formula-feeding moms had similar loss of income over the five-year period. It was the “long-duration” breastfeeding women (greater than 6 months) who really took it in the pocketbook:
“By contrast, women who breast-fed for longer durations experienced a much steeper decline in earned income over the first five years of their children’s lives.”
The study has some problems. The researchers don’t say anything about the women they studied, or about what other factors might have had an impact on length of nursing and income. Were the “long-duration” moms better off financially, and so better able to afford the drop in income? Did other potential “long-duration” breastfeeding moms end up in the “short-duration” category because of the financial need to quickly return to a workplaces hostile to breastfeeding? In other words, would the income differences be so stark if employers really embraced their breastfeeding employees?
You can read this study as evidence that breast feeding is financially bad for mothers and, ultimately, their children, as the loss of income makes life more difficult for families. Or you can see it as an indictment of how corporations (and by extension, American society) view breastfeeding—like paid vacation and sick leave, it’s just one more thing that gets in the way of a productivity. (All that icky workplace pumping! What a waste of widget-assembling time!)
So, bring on the formula, right?
Wrong. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breast-feed for 12 months or more. There’s sound scientific evidence to back up that recommendation. Unfortunately we live in a time and place where scientific evidence often takes a back seat to political expediency and corporate pressure. In short-term-profit-driven America, the health of the next generation of workers doesn’t count for much.
Still, there’s plenty you can do to help. The American Academy of Pediatrics has an excellent breastfeeding Advocacy Resource Guide. Do you have an advocacy group you’d like to mention? Pass it on!