by Kara Murez
MONDAY, May 22, 2023 (HealthDay News) — At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when shelter-in-place orders were in place, new moms breastfed their babies nearly two weeks longer than usual, new research shows Is.
“Stay-at-home policies enabled parents to continue breastfeeding at home instead of returning to the workplace,” said co-author Dr. Rita Hamad said.
“This suggests an increase in demand for breastfeeding, which may be influenced by the lack of a national paid family leave policy in the US,” Hamad said in a university news release.
According to the study, pandemic workplace closures in March and April 2020 provided a natural experiment to see whether the ability of newborns’ parents to stay home changed breastfeeding patterns.
Using national survey and birth certificate data from 2017 to 2020 for more than 118,000 postpartum women, the researchers examined whether infants were breastfed and for how long. They studied the initiation and duration of breastfeeding for babies born before and after shelter-in-place policies.
The investigators found that the rates did not change for women who started breastfeeding their infants. Yet for women who started it, the duration of breastfeeding went from less than 13 weeks to about 15 weeks, an increase of 18%.
Race and income influenced the outcome. White women had the largest increase over the period at 19%. The findings show that Hispanic women experienced the smallest increase of about 10%.
While the length of breastfeeding also increased by about 19% among high-income women, the increase was less than 17% among low-income women.
The study authors suggested that the benefit was likely for white and higher-income women because these groups had jobs that could easily be done at home. Hispanic parents were more likely to have low-paying jobs that required them to work in person.
“Once again, the pandemic has served to highlight an area of health inequality — differences in workplaces that facilitate breastfeeding,” Hamad said.
Women continued to breastfeed their babies for longer periods, at least until August 2020. This level then fell back to pre-pandemic levels.
“Our study suggests that breastfeeding duration in the US would be longer and longer than in peer countries if working parents were encouraged to breastfeed their newborns, especially parents of color and parents with low-income jobs.” Those who cannot afford to take unpaid time off from work are paid while they stay at home for caregiving,” Hamad said.
According to the study authors, initiation of breastfeeding for black and low-income families dipped during the pandemic, suggesting less access to breastfeeding support during shelter-in-place orders.
The researchers said the United States is the only high-income country that does not have a national paid leave policy for new parents. Only 25% of people working in private industry have paid family leave.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
President Joe Biden said in March that he planned to allocate $325 billion for a permanent paid family leave program in his 2024 budget proposal.
The study was published online May 18 American Journal of Public Health,
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information on the benefits of breastfeeding for baby and mother.
Source: University of California, San Francisco, news release, May 18, 2023