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Why More Women Don't Breastfeed

Research points to several disincentives.
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(Photo: Adrin Shamsudin/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Adrin Shamsudin/Shutterstock)

Still more evidence for the benefits of breastfeeding emerged this week, in the form of a well-publicized study published in the journal Lancet Global Health. Looking at 30-year-old Brazilians who were born in 1982, it found those who had been breastfed for at least 12 months had higher IQs, higher incomes, and more education than those who had been breastfed for one month or less.

So why, according to a 2011 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, do only about 28 percent of American mothers breastfeed for a full year? Recent research points to several factors that seem to function as strong disincentives.

First, breastfeeding is costly. A study of 1,313 American women who gave birth between 1980 and 1993 found those who breastfed for six months or more suffered “more severe and more prolonged earnings losses” than mothers who breastfed for a shorter amount of time, or not at all.

Second, breastfeeding has been stigmatized. A 2011 study found mothers who breastfeed are widely viewed as less competent than otherwise identical females. It also found a history of breastfeeding is a handicap for women hoping to be hired for a job.

Clearly, attitudinal changes are needed, on the part of both employers and the general public. As we reported last year:

Employers, for their part, can support flexible scheduling or telecommuting so that women achieve their breastfeeding goals. And hospitals and health care providers could be more adamant about training new mothers how to breastfeed—yes, it’s a learned skill—which would allow more mothers to succeed at it.


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