The shelter-in-place directives in place for COVID-19 supported U.S. women to breastfeed their infants two weeks longer compared to before the pandemic, found new research carried out by UC San Francisco.
“Stay-at-home directives allowed parents to continue to breastfeed at home instead of returning to their workplace,” stated the first author of the study. This suggests unexpressed demand for breastfeeding, which may be hindered by the non-existence of a national paid family leave program in the U.S.”
The Academy of Pediatrics suggests six months of exclusive breastfeeding, as it is well known to improve the health of the infant as well as the parent.
Meanwhile, white women and higher income women experienced maximum gains of breastfeeding during shelter-in-place, probably because these groups had work that could be performed from home more easily, noted the study. Hispanic parents, on the other hand, were more likely to have lower-wage jobs during the pandemic, and thus breastfeeding gains in this group were modest.
“The pandemic served to focus on an area of health inequity- the difference in workplaces that promote breastfeeding,” stated the first author of the study.
The study is published in the May 18, 2023 edition of the American Journal of Public Health.
In order to understand the gains, researchers used workplace closures during the early period of the pandemic, as a natural experiment to observe if the ability to stay at home changed breastfeeding patterns for new parents.
For this, they used the 2017 – 2020 birth certificates and national survey data of 118, 139 postpartum people to study if an infant was breastfed, and for how long. The researchers compared the entire start-to-end duration of breastfeeding patterns for babies born before and after shelter-in-place policies.
This led to the observation that breastfeeding initiation rates didn’t change during the pandemic, the length of time women breastfed increased from 12.4 weeks to 14.8 weeks