Moms who breastfeed their first child for at least five months are likely to have more kids than women who stop sooner or bottle-feed, a new study suggests.
The finding comes from an analysis of data on nearly 3 700 mothers collected between 1979 and 2012. Cornell University researchers compared how many children each woman hoped to have before getting pregnant to their actual outcome.
Despite similar hopes before pregnancy, women who went on to breastfeed successfully for five months or more were more likely to exceed their original expectations and have at least three children, the study found.
The researchers said factors such as education, marital status, income and work could not explain the differences. More research is needed to investigate other possible reasons, such as spousal support, work flexibility and preferences for time spent with children.
Vida Maralani, an associate professor of sociology at Cornell, led the study, which was published recently in the journal Demography.
“Breastfeeding is a time-intensive and culturally and emotionally charged topic in the US, with many different stakeholders,” she said in a university news release.
“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 difficult to follow in practice,” she added.
The new findings contrast with other studies suggesting that highly educated US adults tend to have fewer children than they expected.
“Breastfeeding duration may capture numerous observed and unobserved preferences about family and child investment, and necessarily, the trade-offs that women and couples make,” the researchers concluded.