New mothers continued to breastfeed during the epidemic
Written by Cara Murez
Health Day reporter
MONDAY, May 22, 2023 (HealthDay News) — In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, when shelter-in-place orders were in place, new moms breastfed their babies about two weeks longer than usual, new research suggests.
“Stay-at-home policies allowed parents to continue breastfeeding at home instead of returning to work,” said study co-author Dr. Rita Hamad, associate professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
“This suggests pent-up demand for breastfeeding, which may be hampered by the lack of a national paid family leave policy in the United States,” Hamad said in a university news release.
According to the study, workplace closures in March and April 2020 due to the pandemic provided a natural experiment to determine whether the ability of parents of newborns to stay at home changed breastfeeding patterns.
Using national survey and birth certificate data from 2017 to 2020, researchers examined whether and for how long the infants were breastfed for more than 118,000 postpartum women. They studied the initiation and duration of breastfeeding in infants born before and after shelter insurance.
The researchers found that there was no change in the proportion of women who started breastfeeding their babies. However, breastfeeding duration for women who initiated breastfeeding increased from less than 13 weeks to nearly 15 weeks, an 18% increase.
Race and income influenced the outcome. White women had the largest increase in duration, 19%. Hispanic women saw the smallest increase, at about 10%.
While the duration of breastfeeding also increased by about 19% for high-income women, it was less than 17% for low-income women.
According to the study’s authors, the advantage for white and high-income women was likely because these groups had jobs that could more easily be done at home. Hispanic parents were more likely to work at lower wages that required them to work in person.
“The pandemic has once again highlighted an area of health disparity — workplace differences that facilitate breastfeeding,” Hamad said.
Women breastfed their children longer until at least August 2020. The level then fell back to pre-pandemic levels.
“Our study suggests that breastfeeding duration in the United States would be longer and more comparable to that of other countries if working parents were paid to stay home to care for their newborns, especially parents of color and those with lower incomes who cannot afford and yourselves, take unpaid leave,” Hamad said.
According to the study’s authors, breastfeeding initiation among black and low-income families has slipped during the pandemic, suggesting that breastfeeding support may be less accessible during shelter orders.
The researchers noted that the United States is the only high-income country without a national paid leave policy for new parents. Only 25% of people in the private sector have access to paid family leave.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends six months of exclusive breastfeeding.
President Joe Biden said in March that he plans to spend $325 billion on a permanent paid family leave program in his 2024 budget proposal.
The study was published online on May 18 American Journal of Public Health.
Learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding for baby and mom from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, press release, May 18, 2023