Re:Gender works to end gender inequity and discrimination against girls and women by exposing root causes and advancing research-informed action. Working with multiple sectors and disciplines, we are shaping a world that demands fairness across difference.
Study: The Effect of Maternity Leave Length and Time of Return to Work on Breastfeeding
Researchers in Georgia and South Carolina report that new mothers who take a longer maternity leave are more likely to begin and continue breastfeeding their babies.
Objective: We investigated the effect of maternity leave length and time of first return to work on breastfeeding.
Methods: Data were from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort. Restricting our sample to singletons whose biological mothers were the respondents at the 9-month interview and worked in the 12 months before delivery (N = 6150), we classified the length of total maternity leave (weeks) as 1 to 6, 7 to 12, ≥13, and did not take; paid maternity leave (weeks) as 0, 1 to 6, ≥7, and did not take; and time of return to work postpartum (weeks) as 1 to 6, 7 to 12, ≥13, and not yet returned. Analyses included χ2 tests and multiple logistic regressions.
Results: In our study population, 69.4% initiated breastfeeding with positive variation by both total and paid maternity leave length, and time of return to work. In adjusted analyses, neither total nor paid maternity leave length had any impact on breastfeeding initiation or duration. Compared with those returning to work within 1 to 6 weeks, women who had not yet returned to work had a greater odds of initiating breastfeeding (odds ratio [OR]: 1.46 [1.08–1.97]; risk ratios [RR]: 1.13 [1.03–1.22]), continuing any breastfeeding beyond 6 months (OR: 1.41 [0.87–2.27]; RR: 1.25 [0.91–1.61]), and predominant breastfeeding beyond 3 months (OR: 2.01 [1.06–3.80]; RR: 1.70 [1.05–2.53]). Women who returned to work at or after 13 weeks postpartum had higher odds of predominantly breastfeeding beyond 3 months (OR: 2.54 [1.51–4.27]; RR: 1.99 [1.38–2.69]).
Conclusion: If new mothers delay their time of return to work, then duration of breastfeeding among US mothers may lengthen.