Women in the military with longer maternity leave breastfed their infants longer, a new study found.
The finding supports the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) decision to extended maternity leave from six to 12 weeks in 2016, authors said in “Extended Maternity Leave and Breastfeeding in Active Duty Mothers,” (Delle Donne A, et al. Pediatrics, July 22, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-3795).
The Academy recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding with complementary foods until the child is at least 1 year. Breastfeeding has been linked to health benefits for both women and children.
To analyze the impact of the DoD’s longer maternity leave policy on breastfeeding, researchers looked at electronic health records of just over 400 active duty mothers and their infants at Brooke Army Medical Center in 2014 and 2016. Most of the women were in the Air Force or Army. Authors noted the women have more hazardous jobs than most civilian mothers but also the benefit of no-cost medical care and breastfeeding support.
The team found the rate of mothers who started to breastfeed held steady at 95% from 2014 to 2016, but the duration increased.
Rates of any breastfeeding rose from
- 72% to 81.5% at two months,
- 57% to 70.5% at four months,
- 46.5% to 60% at six months and
- 35% to 45% at nine months.
Rates of exclusive breastfeeding rose from
- 47% to 56% at two months,
- 36% to 47.5% at four months and
- 29% to 37% at six months.
Exclusive breastfeeding rates were not significantly different at nine or 12 months, and rates of any breastfeeding were not significantly different at 12 months.
Breastfeeding initiation did not differ based on rank, but rank was linked to duration. Officers breastfed longer than enlisted personnel, while enlisted personnel saw bigger increases in duration when maternity leave was extended.
“The implications of this specific result suggest that extending maternity leave has benefit overall, but more pronounced benefit in groups that are less likely to have breastfeeding success,” authors wrote. “These findings can be easily interpreted as generalizable to the workforce overall.”