Study: Military mothers breastfed longer after leave extended
MelissaJenco, News Content Editor
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
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.”