Women who breastfeed their first child for five months or longer are more likely to have more children as compared to women who breastfeed for shorter durations or not at all. Cornell University professor of sociology Vida Maralani, with Hunter College professor Samuel Stabler, reported that women who initiate breastfeeding did not differ in how many children they expected to have before they started their families.
Rather, the number of children women actually bear differs by how long they breastfeed their first child. Women who breastfeed for shorter durations are more likely to have fewer children than they expected, while women who breastfeed longer are as likely to achieve their expectations to exceed them. The researchers caution that their results do not imply that breastfeeding duration causes women to have larger families. They write, “Our study reveals the opposite: the interconnectedness of family preferences and child investment across the life course.”
“Women hear the strong message that they should breastfeed their infants for the first year of life, yet it is unambiguously clear that they find these guidelines difficult to follow in practice,” said Maralani.
The researchers used a nationally representative longitudinal dataset, from 1979 to 2012, which provides information on a cohort of nearly 3,700 mothers. They measured women’s expected fertility at least one year before women conceived their first child to examine the link between their expectations of future fertility and actual behaviour.
These data also enabled the authors to account for differences in breastfeeding and fertility by education, age, marital status, family income, and work histories. The full findings are present in the journal — Demography.
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First Published: Sep 20, 2018 11:05 IST
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