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Women Who Delay Returning to Work Breast-Feed Longer

May 30, 2011

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By Matt McMillen

MONDAY, May 30, 2011 (Health.com) — The longer a working mother stays at home with her newborn, the more likely she is to breast-feed and continue doing so for the recommended six months, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics.

Women who waited at least 13 weeks after giving birth to resume working were far more likely than those who returned within six weeks to start breast-feeding, favor nursing over other foods after three months, and breast-feed at all after the baby’s six-month birthday, the study found.

“Our major conclusion is that if the new mother is able to delay the time of returning to work, the prevalence of initiation and the duration of breast-feeding will increase,” says Chinelo Ogbuanu, MD, the lead author of the study and a senior epidemiologist at the Georgia Department of Community Health, in Atlanta.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which publishes Pediatrics, recommends that mothers exclusively breast-feed their babies for the first six months of life, and that breast-feeding should continue—along with other foods—for at least another six months. However, only 10% to 20% of women follow those guidelines.

That low percentage worries public health experts, as breast-feeding has been linked to lower infant mortality rates and a lower risk of serious infection, asthma, and allergies. Some evidence also suggests that babies who breast-feed are less likely to become obese or develop diabetes when they get older.

The baby isn’t the only one who benefits. Breast-feeding mothers are more likely to return to their pre-pregnancy weight than mothers who rely on bottles, and they even appear to have lower rates of breast cancer and other diseases later in life.

Last but not least, breast-feeding provides many less-tangible benefits to mother and child alike. “It helps them bond in a very powerful way,” says pediatrician Lee Beers, MD, of Children’s National Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study. “Mother Nature knows what she is doing.”

Dr. Ogbuanu and her colleagues looked at a nationally representative group of 6,150 women who are participating in a long-term child-development study run by the National Center for Education Statistics. Each woman gave birth to a single child in 2001 and worked in the year before giving birth.

Roughly 70% of the women breast-fed their newborn. In general, the researchers found, the longer the mothers delayed returning to work, the more likely they were to breast-feed, and for a greater period of time.

Next page: Long maternity leave not feasible for most women


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