Fewer work hours linked to greater likelihood of continued breastfeeding

1. The effects of weekly work hours appeared to have a stronger effect on breastfeeding outcomes at 16 weeks and 6 months postpartum than the timing of return to work.

2. Mothers who were older, married, highly educated, in a professional or self-employed occupation, and healthier were more likely to breastfeed their infant at 6 months of age.

Study Rundown: Breastfeeding is known to have multiple benefits for infants and their mothers. Several factors have previously been shown to be barriers to continued and exclusive breastfeeding, such as long work hours and returning to work quickly after birth. It currently is unknown if these factors influence breastfeeding success independently or if they have a combined effect. Authors of the current study sought to investigate how work hours and the timing of work return affected breastfeeding continuation at 16 weeks and 6 months following the birth of their child. Study results suggested that although returning to work could be a major barrier to continued infant breastfeeding at 6 months, mothers who worked only 1-19 hours per week maintained similar breastfeeding outcomes when compared to those who did not return at all by 6 months. These trends were similar for predominant breastfeeding at 16 weeks of age. Several individual factors were also associated with greater odds of breastfeeding at 6 months, such as older maternal age, higher education, being married, and better physical and mental health. This study may lack generalizability as the sample was more likely to be highly educated/first-time mothers from a single country (Australia), and be limited by recall bias. However, these results indicate that return to work is a barrier to continuation of breastfeeding and suggest that providers should encourage part-time work if mothers chose to return to employment within 6 months after birth in order to maximize breastfeeding duration.

Click to read the study, published today in Pediatrics

Relevant Reading: Barriers and facilitators for breastfeeding among working women in the United States

Study Author, Dr. Ning Xiang, PhD, talks to 2 Minute Medicine: Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland.

“Maternal employment has been identified in a number of studies as an important barrier to the continuation of breastfeeding. However, there has been little attempt to separate the effects of timing of return to work and hours worked, nor to investigate how the two factors might interact. Our study suggests that whilst returning to work anytime within the first 6 months could significantly impair the likelihood of any breastfeeding at 6 months, as long as mothers who returned to work keep their working hours within 19 hours per week, they appear as likely as stay-at-home mothers to maintain any breastfeeding at 6 months.  An important implication of these findings is that practitioners should encourage new mothers to delay return to work. And if the mothers decided to return to work within the first 6 months postpartum, practitioners could recommend reduced working hours for mothers who are juggling work and breastfeeding.”

In-Depth [cross-sectional study]: A total of 2300 mothers from Australia were sampled from the Baseline Mothers Survey (assessed 12 months from when a mother gave birth) from 2010-2011. Multivariate regression models were used to analyze the effects of work hours and timing of work return on predominant breastfeeding at 16 weeks of age as well as any type of breastfeeding at 6 months. Researchers controlled for covariates such as sociodemographic, maternal, and infant health characteristics. Mothers who did not go back to work by 6 months were more likely to be breastfeeding at 6 months than participants who went back by 3 months (OR 0.56, 95%CI: 0.43- 0.73) or between 3 and 6 months (OR 0.60, 95%CI: 0.48- 0.75). Mothers who did not work were more likely to breastfeed at this time than full-time (≥35 hours per week) working mothers (OR 0.36, 95%CI: 0.27- 0.50), and those who worked between 20-34 hours per week (OR 0.50, 95%CI: 0.38- 0.66), but not significantly more than mothers who worked 1-19 hours per week (OR 0.88, 95%CI: 0.68- 1.14). Predominant breastfeeding results at 16 weeks were similar to the 6-month outcomes. Mothers who were older, married, highly educated, held professional occupations, and had greater physical/mental health were more likely to breastfeed at 6 months.

Image: CC/Wiki/Anton Nossik

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