MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Vida Maralani PhD
Department of Sociology
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Breastfeeding is a time-intensive and culturally and emotionally charged topic in the U.S. with many different stakeholders. Women hear the strong message that they should breastfeed their infants for the first year of life, yet it is unambiguously clear that they find these guidelines hard to follow in practice. We were interested in exploring how breastfeeding duration is associated with how many children women go on to have. Our results show that women who breastfeed their first child for five months or longer are more likely to have three or more children, and less likely to have only one child, than women who breastfeed for shorter durations or not at all. Women who initiate breastfeeding did not differ in how many children they expected to have before they started their families. Rather, the number of children women actually bear differs by how long they breastfeed their first child. Women who breastfeed for shorter durations are more likely to have fewer children than they expected than to have more children than expected. In contrast, women who breastfeed longer are as likely to achieve their expectations as to exceed them, and they are nearly as likely to have more children than they expected as they are to have fewer.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Women who breastfeed for longer do have more children, but this doesn’t mean that breastfeeding causes women to have more children. Instead, our study shows the interconnectedness of family preferences and child investment across the life course. One very interesting result for us is that many standard explanations, such as differences in education, marital status, family income, and working for pay, do not explain these patterns. Instead, we suspect that other factors that help women to succeed in breastfeeding are also likely to help them to have larger families in the long run. For example, spousal support or flexible work options might be factors that both help new mothers breastfeed for longer and help them to have larger families in the long run.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Breastfeeding is just one small part of all the ways that parents invest in their children. But it happens to be a very symbolic one because of the strong public health messages that women hear, on the one hand, and the difficulties many women face, on the other hand, in finding the time, support, and resources they need to breastfeed for longer durations. Future research should explore whether women use their experiences in breastfeeding to make fertility choices, or whether there are factors beyond the ones we were able to measure in our study that explain the positive association between breastfeeding duration and having more children.
Disclosures: We have no disclosures to report. We did not receive external funding to conduct this study.Citation:
Vida Maralani, Samuel Stabler. Intensive Parenting: Fertility and Breastfeeding Duration in the United States. Demography, 2018; DOI: 10.1007/s13524-018-0710-7
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