Breastfeeding Moms Earn Less Money, Experience Income Drop, Study Finds

There are many known challenges for breastfeeding moms. Nipple soreness, low milk supply, poor hygiene in public nursing facilities, straight-up societal ignorance… The list goes on. But, money? Despite all of these other roadblocks, most new moms have heard someone herald the benefits of "free milk." Now, according to a new study by sociologists Phyllis Rippeyoung and Mary Noonan, it looks like that sound-bite is inaccurate -- economics may be to blame for mothers not being able to nurse their babies for as long as they should.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for one full year, but government statistics show that only 23.8 percent of moms do so -- 74.6 percent start off nursing, and only 44.3 percent make it to the six-month mark. And while there are doctors, lactation consultants and a host of products to help moms overcome the physical hurdles, there has been little research into how to help them with other roadblocks.

Researcher Phyllis Rippeyoung, one of the researchers who wanted to investigate this situation further, told MSNBC that her own experience made her curious about how work -- and therefore money -- impacts nursing.

"I was a grad student at the time driving back and forth between teaching and classes, and my milk was drying up since I couldn’t drive and pump at the same time. It was a very difficult thing, but I had to stop breast-feeding. If I’d continued I couldn’t have worked at the same time," she said.

What she found, along with co-researcher Mary Noonan is that mothers 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," Miller-Miccune reports.

Out of 1,313 women who participated in their study, moms who breastfed for "long durations" saw a steeper decline of income earned in five years than moms who did not. Researchers accredit more time spent out of work and less hours worked as reasons for their findings.

Obama's health care reform legislation requires employers to provide nursing mothers with breaks and a place to pump. While many companies do strive to comply, women still face challenges handling both work and breastfeeding -– pumping at the office means a few hours away from the desk. And still, other women may only have a bathroom in their workplaces making the practice even more difficult to maintain.

NY Times columnist, KJ Dell'antonia points out that many mothers won't be surprised by the findings. "It comes … from the annals of 'duh:' we knew that," she says. Simply put: Moms who breastfeed can’t spend as much time working as those who do not.

But, perhaps these new findings will provide greater encouragement for companies to support working mothers when they return after a maternity leave. Moms and "lactivists" are in a seemingly never-ending fight to gain acceptance for breastfeeding wherever and whenever a baby is hungry. Most recently, the City of Seattle passed a law that makes breastfeeding a civil right, meaning it is now illegal to ask a mom to stop nursing in any given place. However, beyond legislative rights, Dell’antonia identifies "that not every woman has that 'choice' available." Mothers who work outside the home are only allotted 12 weeks maternity leave.

Researchers noted that long-duration breastfeeders are "more likely to be married to college-educated men who make enough money to support the family while the wife takes a leave of absence". Miller-McCune's Tom Jacobs says there is a clear explanation for a wide gap between moms who breastfeed and moms who don't -- some women, especially those in lower income brackets, may have "a lack of options," he writes.

The study suggests that one solution “would be to pass a federal law protecting women's rights to breastfeed at work" that is implemented more strictly than the 2010 health care reform act.

Jacobs writes that "it’s not enough to simply tell mothers about the benefits of breastfeeding. Real changes need to be made in both the home and at the workplace to make it feasible for more women to simultaneously earn a living and nourish their baby."