Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Breastfeeding - not as cheap or easy as it sounds!

I read about some research that was published in the American Sociological Review this week that showed that women who breastfeed ultimately earn less than women who formula feed.    Basically they have shown that the longer you breastfeed, the more severe and prolonged the losses in your earnings.  I've never seen any discussion of the downsides of managing breastfeeding before and it's an interesting issue that certainly isn't mentioned in the early days when you may be considering whether you will ever offer your baby a bottle.

The research is no surprise to me as I have been grappling with how I am going to manage to get back to work in three weeks time while I am still expressing for my six-month-old bub.  I actually work for an excellent employer in terms of family friendliness (a State Government department).  There is a lactation room and I am sure my bosses would be totally understanding if I wanted to take breaks to express milk while I'm in the office.  The fact is that I just don't want to do this.  There seem to be so many logistical issues around bringing the pumping gear in, storing and transporting the milk, arranging my work around half hour breaks, wearing clothes that I can get in and out of easily etc etc.

What this shows though is that even in the best of circumstances where I have a supportive employer, I'm working part-time and I'm a skilled milk expresser, breastfeeding and work still aren't a great match.  Worse still, there isn't necessarily anyone to blame or an easy answer to the problem - except perhaps to suck it up and deal with the inconveniences, stop breastfeeding, or not go back to work and deal with that loss of earnings (not really an option unless we want to somehow rid ourselves of the mortgage). 

While the easiest option is to stop breastfeeding, it's funny how hard and emotional that decision is proving.  While I would objectively like to stop and get my body and time back, for some reason I can't stand the thought that I've got milk and it's not going to the baby.  So thank you researchers for adding to this complex discussion and best of luck to all of those with these tricky decisions ahead!

1 comment:

  1. Been thinking about this for a few days. I didn't read the article you're referring to, but maybe the issue is a bit more complex than length of breastfeeding is directly proportional to earnings loss. Maybe the type of mum who wants to stay home with her little ones (and has the economic situation that allows it) is also the type of woman more likely to value breastfeeding. If you're at home anyway, you might as well breastfeed because it's easier and cheaper than formula feeding. I think the title of your blog, suggesting that breastfeeding is costly, is misleading. It got my attention though!

    You're right in that expressing, storing and transporting your milk for your baby is a hassle. But I think it's worth it. [Disclaimer - I stayed home until my little one was 12 months old so I didn't have to tackle this issue. She just has a breastfeed morning and night on the days I work.] My husband didn't want to have to feed my daughter expressed milk on his days at home. And he didn't have to do the expressing or transporting! It's hard work and I feel for you.

    I recently read a book "The Politics of Breastfeeding" which discussed the economic value of breastfeeding. The author didn't consider loss of income due to not working; rather the cost of formula, bottles, teats, energy for heating water and sterilisation. These aren't significant to most families in Australia, but in other countries (particularly with no dairy industry) this can be a huge drain on the family and national economy.

    I read somewhere that there is a correlation between the years of education and length of breastfeeding in Australia. Not sure if a more highly educated woman is more likely to be able to afford more time off work to breastfeed, or is just more determined to do what's best for her baby and understands that formula is only 'adequate' food. Maybe her workplace is more likely to be 'lactation friendly'?

    Facinating topic that I could talk about for hours! Thanks for posting and good luck with the decision.