Abstract

Using 30 years of longitudinal data from a nationally representative cohort of women, we study the association between breastfeeding duration and completed fertility, fertility expectations, and birth spacing. We find that women who breastfeed their first child for five months or longer are a distinct group. They have more children overall and higher odds of having three or more children rather than two, compared with women who breastfeed for shorter durations or not at all. Expected fertility is associated with initiating breastfeeding but not with how long mothers breastfeed. Thus, women who breastfeed longer do not differ significantly from other breastfeeding women in their early fertility expectations. Rather, across the life course, these women achieve and even exceed their earlier fertility expectations. Women who breastfeed for shorter durations (1–21 weeks) are more likely to fall short of their expected fertility than to achieve or exceed their expectations, and they are significantly less likely than women who breastfeed for longer durations (≥22 weeks) to exceed their expected fertility. In contrast, women who breastfeed longer are as likely to exceed as to achieve their earlier expectations, and the difference between their probability of falling short versus exceeding their fertility expectations is relatively small and at the boundary of statistical significance (p = .096). These differences in fertility are not explained by differences in personal and family resources, including family income or labor market attachment. Our findings suggest that breastfeeding duration may serve as a proxy for identifying a distinct approach to parenting. Women who breastfeed longer have reproductive patterns quite different than their socioeconomic position would predict. They both have more children and invest more time in those children.

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