The benefits of breastfeeding extend well beyond just providing nutrition for the baby. Along with giving immunity to the newborn, it's also a time of bonding between the mother and child. While most women intend to continue breastfeeding even after they resume work, a new study shows that women who rejoin work full-time are less likely to meet their three-month breastfeeding goal. In contrast, there is no association between women who return to work part-time and failure to reach the breastfeeding goal of at least three months.

The study appears Thursday in the Journal of Human Lactation. The authors of the study, Kelsey Mirkovic, Cria Perrine, Kelley Scanlon, and Laurence Grummer-Strawn, surveyed data from 1,172 U.S. mothers and found that 28.8 percent of all women who intended to breastfeed for three months were unable to meet their goal.

The other conclusions drawn from the study were as follows:

  • Women who resumed work full-time in less than six weeks after childbirth were 2.25 times less likely to meet their breastfeeding goals compared to those who stayed at home for at least three months.

  • Women who returned to work full-time between six weeks and three months were 1.82 times less likely to reach their goals.

  • No association was observed between returning to work part-time and not meeting intentions to breastfeed for at least three months.

"Support for a mother's delayed return to paid employment, or return at part-time hours, may help more mothers achieve their breastfeeding intentions," wrote the researchers, according to a press release. "This may increase breastfeeding rates and have important public health implications for US mothers and infants."

Indeed, the U.S. is one of only three countries that does not provide paid maternity leave, according to a United Nations survey. In contrast, European countries like Denmark offer mothers a full year’s leave at full pay while Sweden gives 480 days leave at about 80 percent of a woman’s former salary.

Previous studies have shown that employers view women to be less productive if they are mothers and even more so if they are new mothers. While on the other hand, working mothers are burdened by the guilt of neglecting their families, and the child also misses out on the benefits of breast milk. While formulas may help to curb hunger in the child, they differ from breast milk in that they do not contain the antibodies that are so vital in lowering the risk of type 1 diabetes, pediatric cancer, and atopic dermatitis.

But we might yet see this status quo changing, with President Obama encouraging organizations to adopt policies for paid maternity leave. “Family leave. Childcare. Flexibility. These aren’t frills — they’re basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses — they should be the bottom line,” he said in a White House summit on working families.

Source: Mirkovic KR, Perrine CG, Scanlon KS, Grummer-Strawn LM. Maternity Leave Duration and Full-time/Part-time Work Status Are Associated with US Mothers' Ability to Meet Breastfeeding Intentions. Journal of Human Lactation. 2014.