Your Boobs May Recover From Breastfeeding But Your Income Won’t

breastfeedingWhen I first began babysitting in Brooklyn following my move to the east coast, I worked for a new mother so enthused with breastfeeding that she would always bookend her exclamations with “and it’s free!” While pushing her newborn to the park, I would often encounter other mothers who replicated this same verbal pattern, punctuating their breastfeeding stories with “it’s free!” “and “it doesn’t cost anything!” Yet the idea that breastfeeding is more economically sound to women and families doesn’t really square with some new research in American Sociological Review, which found that the cost to maintaining that breastmilk is actually pretty high. [tagbox tag="breastfeeding"]

Upon examining the data of 1,313 American women who gave birth between 1980 and 1993, researchers learned that breastfeeding mothers who nursed for six months or more endured “more severe and more prolonged earnings losses” than those mommies who opted for Satan’s Formula. When looking into how breastfeeding and childrearing affect that average, non-celebrity woman’s earnings, researchers uncovered what a lot of mothers know from personal experience: the workplace tends to not take too kindly to your breast pump. We don’t exactly need stories like that of the Colorado teacher who was fired for pumping at the job to remind us that many women work fewer hours, or straight up leave the workforce, in an effort to nurse. And unless you’ve married an awesome college-educated man who can support you in your privileged dedication to solely breastfeed, most women are looking at a hostile postpartum professional environment. So in the long term for many many women, this means significantly less money in the bank for the first five years of the child’s life — a breastfeeding tax, if you will.

Miller-McCune reports that this class divide and slim earnings reveal the need for women to have some sort of protection at the job, much like how the EU demanded daily two-hour pumping breaks at work:

“Rather than continuing to pressure women to breastfeed for their children’s well-being while providing no provisions for the sacrifices women make to do so,” they conclude, “an alternative solution would be to pass a federal law protecting women’s rights to breastfeed at work.”

Researchers did note that it was quite difficult to “tease out” why so many long-term breastfeeders quit the workforce at such higher rates. Yet, they have a few observations of note:

“[Breastfeeding mothers] may leave work because of their own personal desires or cultural pressure, or they may be pushed out because of the incompatibility of breastfeeding in the workplace.”

Personal desires and cultural pressures aren’t really much of anyone’s business as they reflect individual women’s choices. But “incompatibility” with the workplace is one that deserves to challenged and rectified for the sake of healthy kids. Especially when we know that women who have maternity leave for six months or more tend to stick to breastfeeding longer than those mothers who are scrambling back into the office one to six weeks after delivery. It’s mighty difficult to keep with that six-month American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation when you have to hide lugging your pump into the bathroom stall.

(photo: ravl/ Shutterstock)

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  • kate

    I think this article is an unpleasant negative to discourage women to breastfeed. yes, im lucky enough to have my own office and pump twice a day so my baby has never had formula. but before the office, i had two kids and went to a private area (not a bathroom) to pump and sumplemented with formula, which was still cheaper than full on formula feeding. So it stands to reason, that this sutdy is really apply to only a class of mothers..perhaps if you work in retail or the food industry…by according to my boss (who IS a lawyer) it is a law (at least in my state, i dont claim to know if it is federal) to provide a place for a working mother to pump at LEAST on her work break. The title to this piece is misleading and discouraging, dont given women another reason to not try breast feeding. And no, im not a lactivist, I just think the option should be discouraged.

  • CW

    “Researchers did note that it was quite difficult to ‘tease out’ why so many long-term breastfeeders quit the workforce at such higher rates.” The corporate world rewards women who put career ahead of family and penalizes those who put family ahead of career. Breastfeeding is all about putting the child’s needs first, and it is no wonder that moms who BF are more likely to resolve an employment-family conflict by quitting their paid jobs.

  • Laura

    Where are the editors with this one? So many misspellings…

    • Stephanie

      LOL. Fro sure.

  • Kayla

    Ditto on wondering where the editors are. I just found this site and this is the second dumb article I’ve read. Not returning.

  • Katie

    I work in a public library and didnt have any issue pumping.

  • Cheyenne

    I was a single mom on welfare and medical coupons so breastfeeding was perfect.

    The dad paid all the money back to the state, by the way, and didn’t discuss it with me, so I didn’t get any child support at all. He was mad at me for ‘taking his money’ (although, he didn’t tell me WHY he thought I was taking his money) and the state got the interest on all that money. Luckily it ended up being a real financial boon for me when I finally found out and the state had to pay me back child support!

    Importantly, I managed to get off of welfare after only two years, because of the FIP program (Family Independence Program). Doesn’t ring a bell? That’s because it was killed, undoubtedly for the simple reason IT WORKED.

  • Emily

    Like it or not, this is reality. While I believe breastfeeding should be supported, I also am not naive enough to believe that companies (which pass up someone with children if they find out during the interview) would happily give the same promotions to a woman who insisted on her rights for pumping. Also look at the time-period. 1980-1993, and many breastfeeding rights pumping type laws have been in the last 10 years since then (this research probably is one of the reasons for those laws.) Breastfeeding is doing what is best for the baby and putting the baby first. Getting ahead at work is about showing you will sacrifice and work hard for the company and put them first. When it’s time to dole out a promotion they will notice who was pushy about taking time to breastpump.

  • norma

    Seriously! LOL
    Poor America,wonder when their going to ‘catch up’ with the rest of the world in regards to infant health and nutrition and bettwer maternity leave. Id hate to be a new Mother in such an unsupportive countru.

  • Hong Mei

    I worked and breast fed and it was no problem (the breastfeeding itself, well that’s another story), all of my friends also breast fed AND worked full time, too. I don’t even know anyone that because they work didn’t breastfeed. I can’t say I make less money now than I would have if I used formula because I don’t think I do. I think this article is misleading and I agree with Kate, why discourage a good thing.

  • Beth

    Unfortunately my boobs never recovered.. :-(

    • kate

      yeah, mine either :/

  • Jennifer

    This article is ridiculous. I have 3 kids, work full time (going back to work 12 wks pp), and was able to successfully and exclussively breastfeed my kids. It is a federal law that all FMLA qualifying employers must provide a clean, private space (other than a bathroom) to be used by a nursing mom to express breastmilk, and they must provide as much time as needed as many times as needed through out the day to pump. However, the employer is not required to pay you during the times you are pumping if it exceeds the required break times. The hour break, broken up into two 30 minute breaks was sufficent time for me to pump and have lunch, without needing to request any additional time. (it was also enough time for me to be able to pump enough to feed my baby AND donate over 4000oz of milk). Working and breastfeeding CAN be done.

    • kate

      exactly! im glad other commentors felt the same way :) I also have 3, breastfed, and worked full time :)

  • Elizabeth

    What happens if there isn’t a room to do it other then the bathroom? What happens to the women who is working by herself at the gas station or on a small crew at the fast food place?
    Sometimes women do not work in an office,sometimes they work at Chevron or Arby’s who may not be in a place that has a room other then the bathroom or freezer with a lock or even a door.

    While breastfeeding and working may have gone great for you it is not possible for many blue-collar women who don’t have cushy office jobs.

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