Why More Women Don't Breastfeed - Pacific Standard

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.

PACIFIC STANDARD ON BREASTFEEDING

• Lactation Breeds Lack: The High Cost of Breastfeeding
New research finds mothers who breastfeed for six months or longer are more likely to suffer a severe and prolonged loss of earnings.

• The Paradox of Women's Sexuality in Breastfeeding Advocacy and Breast Cancer Campaigns
We capitalize on the sexualization of the breast to raise awareness about breast cancer, yet we cringe at the idea of a woman nursing her child.

• Breastfeeding Women Viewed as Less Competent
New research finds both men and women tend to harshly evaluate breastfeeding mothers.

• The Unseen Consequences of Pumping Breast Milk
Exclusive pumping is becoming more popular among American moms, often seen as a way moms can “have it all.” Meanwhile, the effects on maternal and infant health—and workplace policies—are rarely discussed.

• Don't Mess With Breastfeeding Women
Newly published research suggests lactation increases aggression.

• Encouraging Breastfeeding, One Parishioner at a Time
New research finds low-income women who attend regular religious services are more likely than non-churchgoers to breastfeed their infants.

• Breastfeeding Is the Best Feeding, but U.S. Mothers Are Too Overworked to Provide It
The problem: Most American mothers don’t meet their breastfeeding goals. The solution: Well, there are many.

• Because It Feels Right
Do we worry too much about the science of breastfeeding? A radical new documentary sets aside the usual arguments to encourage a closer look at the systems that set so many women up to fail.

• Breastfed Children Less Likely to Become Obese
New research from Ireland finds 9-year-olds are far less likely to be obese if their mothers breastfed them for at least six months.

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