The Earning Power of Breastmilk?

April 23, 2009

Call me cynical but the findings of the new study “Is Breastfeeding Truly Free?: The Economic Consequences of Breastfeeding for Women” are not remotely surprising.  Short version: Before pregnancy, women who later chose to breastfeed were more likely to be paid more and work longer hours than women who later chose to formula feed their babies. But over time, breastfeeders of “long duration” (over six months) ended up making significantly less than formula feeders.  

Is it just me or is this logical?  It is really, really, REALLY hard to breastfeed and work full-time.  Sure, you can pump, but pumping for that long would make most women lose their minds.  So the women who are still breastfeeding after six months?  They are the mothers who are more likely to be working part-time or staying home.  The fact that they earn less in the long term seems like a big, fat DUH! to me.  

So what does this study tell us?  To me, it is just further proof that the the breastfeeding debate one is counterproductive and just plain dumb.  The truth is, whether or not you breastfeed your child is really a personal decision that has a lot more at stake than the health of your baby.  

I am one of those “long duration” breastfeeders and while the decision was a natural one for me (and one that comes from a privileged position since my family does not depend on my income to pay the rent), I was also aware of the fact that by working from home part-time, I was likely sacrificing a bit of my career.  And to be totally honest, at times that has made me bitter and made me feels as if I am betraying my feminist ideals slowing down professionally.  

I also have friends that have struggled with breastfeeding and have ended up opting for formula.  Do I think less of them as mothers? No.  Do they feel tremendous amounts of guilt about their decision, at times they have.  One friend recently said that now that she is switching to formula, she feels so guilty that she often holds her baby while he sleeps because she feels like not breastfeeding him and taking time for herself while he is sleeping it callous and not maternal.  How awful to feel that way!

So the truth is, neither one is going to be perfect.  Both options have drawbacks and HUGE amounts of guilt associated with them.  So why can’t we just leave well enough alone and let mothers make the decision that is right for their family without putting our moral judgments on them?


2 Responses to “The Earning Power of Breastmilk?”

  1. Joyce Says:

    The sad thing is the MOTH (read, yuppy uber-mom) reaction to this paper would probably be horror that these researchers would even weigh the benefits of breastfeeding against a woman’s earning power, etc. etc.

  2. adjunctmom Says:


    I think there is a lot to be said for gently promoting breastfeeding, but I also think that there is enough guilt involved that if you’re confronted with someone who has decided, in either direction, you should leave them alone.

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