Breast Feeding Hurts Moms' earnings, study Finds
Along with a list of breast-feedingâ€™s health benefits for mothers and children, pediatricians often tout an added bonus -- unlike formula, breast milk is free.
Not so fast, researchers say. Breast-feeding comes with a cost to new moms that is often overlooked, according to a new study published in the American Sociological Review. The study looked at data from 1,313 first-time mothers in the U.S. who were in their late 20s or 30s when they gave birth.
Womenâ€™s incomes dropped precipitously when they choose to breast-feed for six months or longer -- and they remained low some five years after the babies were born, says the studyâ€™s lead author, Phyllis L.F. Rippeyoung, an assistant professor of sociology and coordinator of womenâ€™s and gender studies at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.
Rippeyoungâ€™s interest in the hidden costs of breast-feeding was sparked by personal experience. When she became a mom, she was flooded with information about the benefits of breast-feeding -- including the suggestion that it would save her money.
â€śI thought that it was weird that they were saying it was free,â€ť Rippeyoung remembers. â€śI was a grad student at the time driving back and forth between teaching and classes, and my milk was drying up since I couldnâ€™t drive and pump at the same time. It was a very difficult thing, but I had to stop breast-feeding. If Iâ€™d continued I couldnâ€™t have worked at the same time.â€ť
The data for the new study came from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which included information about the momsâ€™ jobs and incomes, as well as stats on their family life, including the decision to give their babies formula or to breast-feed for a short duration (less than six months) or a long duration (six months or more).
The researchers found that on average women who breast-fed their babies for six months or longer experienced a dramatic drop in income. Five years after the birth of their babies, the women were still making about $5,000 per year less than they had before the birth of their children.
One factor that explained much of the drop in income was a reduction in hours -- and this was true even though most of the women in the long-duration group were managers or professionals and said they worked because they liked to.
Rippeyoung doesnâ€™t think that breast-feeding needs to come at such a cost -- and she isnâ€™t advocating that women give it up.
â€śI donâ€™t think itâ€™s inevitable,â€ť she said. â€śIf there were more ways in which women could combine breast-feeding with working youâ€™d see less of this earnings decline."
One thing that could help is if more companies offered on-site day care and allowed women time to visit their babies during working hours, she said.
â€śIf thereâ€™s going to be a push for women to breast-feed then we need to take into account all of the costs,â€ť Rippeyoung said. â€śAnd the responsibility for raising the children shouldnâ€™t be solely borne by women.â€ť