I’m a mom and a proponent of the benefits of breast-feeding. One of the talking points in the breast-feeding vs. formula-feeding discussion is, “breast-feeding is free.” However, that may not be the case, especially for mothers who work outside of the home.
A new study based on data gathered in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth reveals that working mothers who breast-feed their children earn less than their non-breast-feeding peers. To make matters worse, the salary impact can last for five years or more.
Findings from the study, conducted by Phyllis F. Rippeyoung and Mary C. Noonan, were published in the American Sociological Review. The results reveal that breast-feeding for longer than six months can have long-term impacts on a woman’s salary.
“Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, our results show that mothers who breast-feed for six months or longer suffer more severe and more prolonged earnings losses than do mothers who breast-feed for shorter durations or not at all. The larger post-birth drop in earnings for long-duration breast-feeders is due to a larger reduction in labor supply.”
I asked Samantha Gray, executive director of Attachment Parenting International, if she thought that the study findings should impact a mother’s decision to breast-feed.
"Yes, if the understanding is that rather than saying breast-feeding is free, we should be remarking, 'Look how valuable it is because there is a cost to it, so yes, breast-feed your baby.' We know that the calculation for the family involved is really much greater than some future earnings, from facilitating secure attachment for our children's well-being to the everyday and major health benefits to mother and child. So the question is how we better accommodate the welfare of employees as good business practice and the good of our society."
Gray explained further after I asked what businesses could do to support working mothers who breast-feed their children.
"The business case is that supporting breast-feeding is good business practice. So, businesses can support working mothers and do well and start with this positive mindset. Businesses can first recognize that breast-feeding is really such a short time in the life of an employee and a business, whereas a prepared and loyal employee, with healthy and connected children, is a long-term asset. Many businesses have already figured out how to make it work, with positive support, parental leave, on-site daycare, break time, flex time, a pumping area, welcoming infants, and other suggestions advocated by the Business Case for Breastfeeding and the Parenting in the Workplace Institute."
I think that this study supports the need for more companies to explore telecommuting. There is costs savings to the business in terms of increased productivity, costs savings to the employee who does not have to physically commute to work and in the case of new mothers, the opportunity for that mother to bond with her new child while still being an active, engaged and productive employee.