- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

Many working mothers in this country and abroad do not breast-feed their babies, suggesting maternal employment can be a liability in providing infants with the benefits of breast milk, according to new research.

“A lot of new mothers start out breast-feeding [when they return to work]. But during the first two weeks, if they don’t get the support they need [to continue breast-feeding], they quit,” said Lori McBride, national coordinator of Nursing Mothers Counsel, a California-based group that encourages mothers to breast-feed.

Statistics compiled in 2004 by Ross Laboratories, a major infant-formula maker, showed that nearly 65 percent of new mothers started out breast-feeding, butfewer than half were still doing so after six months. Census data for that year showed that 55 percent of mothers with infants were in the labor force.

“Employment is always the biggest barrier” to new mothers’ continuing to breast-feed, said Karen Peters, executive director of the Breastfeeding Task Force of Greater Los Angeles.

A study in Greece published last year found indications that maternal employment outside the home is preventing even the initiation of breast-feeding by many new mothers in that nation.

In Athens in 2001, more than half of the 62 women who did not breast-feed while in the hospital were employed.

And nearly two-thirds of the 1,117 Greek mothers who departed from World Health Organization (WHO) breast-feeding guidelines were employed, the study found. WHO recommends that infants receive only breast milk for their first six months.

Another study in the Netherlands showed that although a very high percentage of employed Dutch mothers began breast-feeding when their babies were born, relatively few continued it for four months. An analysis of infants younger than 7 months found that nearly half of those whose mothers who did not work or worked less than 16 hours weekly were still breast-feeding at 4 months. But fewer than a third of those born to mothers who worked full time were doing so, the study found.

In the United States, federal data for 2004 showed that only 14.1 percent of mothers continued exclusive breast-feeding at six months.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding for at least the first year of a child’s life to reduce a baby’s risk of medical conditions such as respiratory and ear infections, diarrhea and obesity.

Breast-feeding also has health benefits for mothers, including reducing the risk for ovarian cancer and premenopausal breast cancer.

Summaries of the Greek and Dutch studies, initially published in the Swedish medical journal, Acta Paediatrica, are contained in the April issue of the newsletter, the Family in America, a publication of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society in Rockford, Ill.

Asked why mothers who work outside the home are less likely to breast-feed, Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center, an interreligious research and education group, said, “It’s a matter of time, focus and energy. It’s much more difficult to breast-feed when you are trying to hold down a full-time job.”

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