Proponents of breastfeeding have long argued that it was a cheaper alternative to bottle-feeding, but a new study published in the American Psychological Review suggests that mothers who breastfeed beyond the six-month mark actually lose income compared to mothers who use formula—and the loss of income could last for up to five years.
The researchers noted that socioeconomic class had a significant effect on the results. “Women who breastfeed tend to be white, college educated, and married,” said Mary C. Noonan, one of the authors of the study. “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 labor force.” The study showed that women who chose to keep breastfeeding usually worked a part-time job or just stopped working altogether.
Noonan’s co-author, Phyllis Rippeyoung, thinks a lot of breastfeeding activism misses the mark when it comes to educating mothers. “Currently, breastfeeding promotion focuses almost exclusively on encouraging women to breast feed—without providing adequate economic and social supports to facilitate the practice—a reality that helps reproduce gender, class, and racial inequality,” said Rippeyoung.
She believes better legislation regarding paid leave and onsite daycare could help prevent mothers from encountering this issue. “Unless these or other policies are put in place, formula-feeding will continue to be the only realistic option for many women in the United States,” remarked Rippeyoung.
Breastfeeding advocate Kim Updegrove echoed the authors’ sentiments. “Executives have the freedom to say ‘I intended to start my day at 8 a.m. but my daughter is having a very fussy morning and I am not going to make it in until 9 a.m.,’” she said.
Updegrove also believes the babies are adversely affected when their mothers have to rush to go to work. “If she is not breastfeeding her child 100 percent of the time, then her child is less capable of fighting off things like colds and the flu virus,” said Updegrove.
Noonan also believes time plays a factor in this issue. “Breastfeeding for six months or longer is only free if a mother’s time is worth absolutely nothing,” she said in a statement.
Rippeyoung knows about a lack of time from her own experience. “I was a grad student at the time driving back and forth between teaching and classes, and my milk was drying up since I couldn’t drive and pump at the same time,” Rippeyoung recalled. “It was a very difficult thing, but I had to stop breast-feeding. If I’d continued I couldn’t have worked at the same time.”