Breastfeeding is not free

"Breastfeeding for six months or longer is only free if a mother's time is worth absolutely nothing," said Doctor Mary C. Noonan of the University of Iowa.

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 of Canada's Acadia University, found that formula-feeders, short-duration breastfeeders, and long-duration 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 does not have to buy anything to breastfeed whereas one needs to purchase formula and bottles to formula-feed," Rippeyoung said. "But, this simplistic view does not 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 labour force."

The authors noted that there are extremely few datasets that consider both breastfeeding and women's work behaviours. "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 behaviours," 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 behaviours, 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."; Source: American Sociological Association