Breastfeeding is the best way to feed babies, but it isn’t as “free” as everyone thinks.

Researchers in Canada and the U.S. studied the impact of breastfeeding on women’s work lives. They found that, in fact, there is a high cost associated with breastfeeding.

“Women who breastfeed their babies for a long duration — six months or longer — have a steeper decline in earnings than do women who breastfeed for less time or don’t breastfeed at all,” says Dr. Phyllis Rippeyoung from the department of sociology at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S.

Years of scientific studies show breastfeeding provides the healthiest start for babies — it boosts their immune systems, reduces infections, and prevents obesity.

There has been a major push among those in the government and the health community to get more women breastfeeding, says Dr. Rippeyoung. Health Canada recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life.

The problem is, according to Dr. Rippeyoung and her colleague Mary Noonan from the University of Iowa, the argument often used to promote breastfeeding is that it’s “free.”

Many women’s jobs are incompatible with breastfeeding for long periods of time, so they quit their jobs.

“Our goal is not to tell women, ‘Don’t breastfeed because it will cost you money.’ Rather, if breastfeeding has value for society, we need to think about why women are the only ones paying the price for it, when everyone else stands to gain.”

She hopes that this new study challenges people to think about the expectations that are put on women when they become mothers, and how to support them.

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