Pediatricians recommend new moms exclusively breastfeed their babies for at least six months. The suggestion is based on the nutritional benefits breastmilk can give to babies and that breastmilk is ultimately free. But how free it really is needs to be unpacked a bit. Infant formula may cost money, but breastfeeding is hardly "free," according to a study by researchers at the University of Iowa.
The study found that formula-feeders (i.e., mothers who never breastfed), short-duration breastfeeders (i.e., mothers who breastfed for fewer than six months), and long-duration breastfeeders (i.e., mothers who breastfed for six months or longer) all experienced earnings losses after giving birth. However, on average, long-duration breastfeeders experienced much steeper and more prolonged earnings losses than did mothers who breastfed for shorter durations or not at all.
"When people say breastfeeding is free, I think their perspective is that one doesn't have to buy anything to breastfeed whereas one needs to purchase formula and bottles to formula-feed," sociologist Phyllis L. F. Rippeyoung said in a press release.
But there's actually more at stake to consider: "Breastfeeding for six months or longer is only free if a mother's time is worth absolutely nothing," says Mary C. Noonan, the study's co-author.