Ruth Mantell has a post on WSJ blogs about “The Economic Consequences of Breastfeeding.” I would take issue with Mantell’s approach if it were intended as anything more than a typical blog post, but I could not be more thrilled that this is being discussed at all!
I love the fact that Mantell can share her considerations and that “CrunchyMBAmama” types can share how they had no problem pumping for over a year. I think that it is great that women such as Mantell are breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of their child’s life and then continuing to breastfeed while with their child. Breastfeeding is excellent for both the mother and baby.
At the same time though, most of the evidence for the great power of breastfeeding is based on the first six months of the child’s life or else situations where the alternative is low-quality formula mixed with impure water. I see no reason to be concerned if women decide that exclusive breastfeeding after six months is simply not worth the effort.
Much more concerning is the question of which mothers never get anywhere close to exclusively breastfeeding for six months. In the United States there is no question about the correlation of breastfeeding with privilege. At six months of age the percentage of babies breastfeeding at all is:
30% of Black babies compared to 45% of white babies.
33% of babies whose mothers are high school graduates, compared with 58% whose mothers are college graduates.
27% whose mothers are unmarried, compared with 50% whose mothers are married.
34% who are below the poverty line, compared with 51% who are at 350% or above.
The national average of babies breastfeeding exclusively at six months is only 13.6%, but for babies from the poorest state, Mississippi, it drops to 4.6%.
I firmly believe that breastfeeding is important enough to demand significant social support. But as long as the most privileged women have support for long-term exclusive breastfeeding and choose to stop after six months due to convenience, I see no reason to be concerned about the “economic implications” for them as a group. What does concern me is the health implications for those mothers-babies never who never have a chance of getting to six months of exclusive breastfeeding due to their economic situation. Because one thing we do know is that the economic consequences of mothers never breastfeeding are huge for our nation.
- 7 Quick Takes
- I am thankful 3/14/2010