October 25, 2018
2 min read

Paid family leave improves breastfeeding rates among high income women

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Photo of Rita Hamad
Rita Hamad

Paid family leave may increase the rate of breastfeeding in states where more supportive laws are enacted, but middle- and high-income women may benefit most from these policies, according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers said that these policies might not be adequate for low-income women.

“Our findings suggest that women in states that enacted paid family leave modestly extended breastfeeding during infancy, which is a critical developmental window,” Rita Hamad, MD, PhD, assistant professor of family and community medicine and a member of the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California San Francisco, said in a press release. “It is notable that we see the breastfeeding changes particularly among women of higher social status, a group that is presumably more likely to take advantage of the partially paid leave. These policies only provide new parents with a fraction of their regular salary, so low-income parents may be less likely to take time off.”

The researchers examined how many infants born between 2001 and 2003 were ever breastfed, were exclusively breastfed at 3 and 6 months and were still breastfed at 6 and 12 months in California and New Jersey. These rates, in addition to the duration of any breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding, were compared with rates in states where no paid family leave policies were enacted.

Paid family leave was associated with a 1.3 percentage point increase in exclusive breastfeeding at 6 months overall. However, the researchers wrote that the variance in other measures was not statistically significant.

Photo of mother breastfeeding her infant 
Although paid family leave provides mothers with part of their salary after having a child, the income may not be enough to support lower-income mothers and allow them to sustain exclusive breastfeeding.
Source: Adobe

Married women made improvements in exclusive breastfeeding at 3 months, any breastfeeding at 6 months and the duration of exclusive breastfeeding when compared with unmarried women. The researchers observed a reduction in breastfeeding at 12 months for black women when compared with white women, but Hispanic women improved their rate of exclusive breastfeeding at 6 months. Women of other races included in the study demonstrated a decline in ever breastfeeding.

Hamad and colleagues also observed an increase in breastfeeding rates for women with middle- and high-income status, with specific improvements in ever breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding at 3 months and a lengthened duration of breastfeeding.

“The important point is that both of the states we looked at had additional increases right after their paid leave policies were put into place,” Hamad said in the release. “Providing fully paid leave might give low-income mothers and fathers the support to be with their newborns.”

The researchers wrote that breastfeeding rates were similar among women of all ages. However, the duration of breastfeeding was shorter among women younger than 30 years when compared with that of older women.

“Our findings suggest that the policies worked in favor of higher income working women,” Hamad said. “The benefits offered in California and New Jersey may not be enough to help low-income women who cannot afford any lost wages. It would be interesting to see whether the fully paid leave benefits recently adopted by the city of San Francisco and some companies — especially tech companies — do a better job of supporting low-income parents.” – by Katherine Bortz

Disclosures: Infectious Diseases in Children was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures prior to publication.