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Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics


New Research from AEDE Alumnus Bidisha Mandal and Professor Brian Roe Suggests that Women’s Decisions Regarding Stopping Breastfeeding and Returning to the Workplace are Interlinked

Oct. 4, 2012
Do working mothers with new infants first arrange re-entry to the workplace and then decide on strategies to feed their newborn that will fit into their work schedule? Or do these mothers make full-fledged tradeoffs between how and when they will feed their child and re-acclimate to the workplace? These are the questions that AEDE alumnus Bidisha Mandal, AEDE Professor Brian E. Roe, and Sara B. Fein from the US Food and Drug Administration, address in their new article published online in the journal Review of Economics of the Household. In short, they find that among the higher socio-economic status women they study, the answer may have changed over the last decade, with working mothers deciding the return-to-work and infant feeding questions together.
Using data from the Infant Feeding Practices Study II, conducted from May 2005 to June 2007 by the US Food and Drug Administration in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the researchers used a simultaneous equations model to study women’s choices regarding returning to work after giving birth and how this correlated with their decision to stop breastfeeding their child.
Of importance, the researchers found that for higher socioeconomic status US women the decision regarding when to return to work after giving birth was interlinked with the decision regarding when to stop breastfeeding the child – essentially, that making a decision to prioritize “sustaining the health of a newborn child via breastfeeding and that of sustaining the household budget via paid work is a simultaneous decision process.” These findings offset previous research from the 1990s, which found that women in this economic class generally chose when to return to work first, and then made a decision regarding when to stop breastfeeding. 
As the article notes, “For our sample of higher socioeconomic status mothers, we find a joint decision process for three sets of decisions modeled: work leave duration and duration of any, as well as of exclusive, breastfeeding, and daily work hours and daily breastfeedings at infant age 3 months. We find that returning to paid work 1 week earlier reduces any breastfeeding duration by about two-thirds of a week while extending breastfeeding by a week delays work participation by about one-third of a week.”
This research is important as it demonstrates that for this socioeconomic class of US mothers, successful breastfeeding promotion policies can have a relatively large impact on the US labor market. As the researchers state, “Exploring the impact of breastfeeding decisions on postpartum work is important because women of childbearing age constitute a substantial component of the US labor force and because substantial effort goes into federal, state and private policies to promote breastfeeding.” Additionally, “From a public health policy perspective, the current finding of full simultaneity suggests that efforts aimed at achieving goals that involve extending the duration and intensity of breastfeeding among US women may also impact US labor markets by extending work leaves for mothers with newborns and reducing working hours for these women.”
Bidisha Mandal, Assistant Professor and Extension Economist at the School of Economic Sciences at Washington State University, earned her Ph.D. from Ohio State’s AEDE program in 2007. Brian E. Roe is AEDE’s McCormick Professor and currently serves as the Undergraduate Program Leader for the department. Sara B. Fein is a Consumer Science Specialist with the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the US Food and Drug Administration. You can read the full journal article here.

October 5, 2012