Is Breastfeeding Truly Free?

Recent results from the University of Iowa add intriguing new information to questions about the benefits and costs of breastfeeding.

Pediatricians often encourage new mothers to breastfeed their infants for at least the first six months of their infants’ lives because of the health advantages for both mothers and their infants. One additional argument is that breastfeeding has financial advantages over formula-feeding because it is said to be free. The implication is that mothers who do not breastfeed are acting out of ignorance. But is breast-feeding truly free? Our analysis, based on nationally representative data, reveals that among first-time mothers who were employed in the year before their first child, those who breastfeed for six months or longer experience a steeper decline in their annual income, on average, than do mothers who breastfeed for shorter durations or not at all. Why is this? In the US, most mothers of young children work outside the home. Most do not receive paid maternity leave, nor are they extended the right to take breaks to breastfeed their babies. As a result, mothers who breastfeed for six months or longer are more likely to switch to part-time work or quit work entirely, while mothers who cannot afford to do so are less likely to breastfeed. If the U.S. government wants to promote health and wellbeing for mothers and their infants through breastfeeding, it should consider federal legislation to 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.

For more, check out the article:
"Is Breastfeeding Truly Cost Free? Income Consequences of Breastfeeding for Women" by Phyllis L. F. Rippeyoung and Mary C. Noonan
American Sociological Review 77(2).