Article

The Politics of Breastfeeding: Assessing Risk, Dividing Labor

Signs 01/2000; 25(2). DOI: 10.1086/495446
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    ABSTRACT: In this article the authors analyze the use of "risks of formula language" versus "benefits of breastfeeding language" in breastfeeding advocacy texts. Feeding intentionality and 434 adult respondents' assessments of advocacy texts were examined at a mid-western university in the fall of 2009. No significant difference was observed between those who read text phrased in terms of "risks of formula feeding" and those who read text describing "benefits of breastfeeding" in feeding intentionality. Results supported the expectation that respondents would less favorably assess texts using risk language-respondents rated risk texts as less trustworthy, accurate, and helpful compared to benefit text. Texts were also varied in "medical" and "breastfeeding advocacy group" affiliations. Analyses revealed that texts including the medical logo were rated significantly more favorably compared to breastfeeding advocacy logo and no logo conditions. Findings suggest that use of risk language may not be an advantageous health promotion strategy, but may be counter-productive to the goals of breastfeeding advocates.
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    ABSTRACT: Based on studies showing health advantages for breastfeeding mothers and their infants, pediatricians and other breastfeeding advocates encourage new mothers to breastfeed their babies for at least the first six months of their infants’ lives, arguing that breast milk is best for infants, families, and society, and it is cost free. Few empirical studies, however, document how the decision to breastfeed instead of formula-feed is associated with women’s post-birth earnings. This is an important omission, given that the majority of women today work for pay, and many work in job environments incompatible with breastfeeding. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, our results show that mothers who breastfeed for six months or longer suffer more severe and more prolonged earnings losses than do mothers who breastfeed for shorter durations or not at all. The larger post-birth drop in earnings for long-duration breastfeeders is due to a larger reduction in labor supply. We discuss the implications of these findings for gender equality at home and at work.
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