Disentangling Maternal Decisions Concerning Breastfeeding and Paid Employment
Posted: 6 Jul 2011
Date Written: June 2010
Rising female labor force participation in the United States may interfere with achievement of the nation’s breastfeeding goals. Meanwhile the importance of breastfeeding in developed countries is increasingly emphasized. In 1997, the American Academy of Pediatrics increased the recommended minimum duration for breastfeeding from 6 to 12 months based on diverse research showing health benefits in developed countries, and the policy was reaffirmed in 2005. U.S. health objectives call for exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and breastfeeding duration of at least 12 months. We examine the trade-off between postpartum employment and breastfeeding. Conditional on initiation, a set of simultaneous models of maternal employment and infant feeding decisions are estimated to study (1) the duration of maternal work leave and (a) the duration of breastfeeding and (b) the duration of exclusive breastfeeding, and (2) the intensity market work and the intensity of breastfeeding. Data from the Infant Feeding Practices Study II (IFPS II), conducted in 2005-2007, are used. IFPS II is a longitudinal study of women from late pregnancy through their infant’s first year of life. Compared with a nationally representative sample of new mothers, IFPS II mothers were older, more highly educated, more likely to be white, less likely to have low income, more likely to be employed, and more likely to take longer maternity leaves. Of the 4902 women who completed the prenatal questionnaire, approximately 700 women were eligible and had complete data for the multivariate analyses. Women were excluded if their due dates were more than 3 months away, they did not initiate breastfeeding, they were not working for pay before childbirth, or they did not have explicit plans to return to work within a year after childbirth. In our sample of interest, the mean breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding duration is 24.7 and 7.7 weeks, respectively. Women, on average, return to active employment in 17.9 weeks. At infant age 3 and 6 months the average percentages of daily milk feedings that were breast milk are 59.6% and 47.9% respectively. At the same time, women’s market work hours range between 30 and 40 hours per week on average. Preliminary analyses show that while the duration of maternal work leave is positively related to the duration of breastfeeding, it has no relation to the duration of exclusive breastfeeding. Breastfeeding behaviors, however, do not significantly affect duration of leave. The intensity of a woman’s market work is negatively related to the intensity of breastfeeding activity at both 3 and 6 months of infant age, and vice-versa. Our results reflect the opportunity cost of breastfeeding on the length of employment leave and on the intensity of work. It appears that the duration models are recursively simultaneous, while the intensity models are fully simultaneous, indicating that employment constraints surrounding the decision of when to return to work are the primary factors for breastfeeding duration but not for duration of exclusive breastfeeding, and that decisions about the number of hours to work and intensity of breastfeeding are jointly made.
Keywords: breastfeeding duration, maternal employment, Maternal leave
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