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Keywords:

  • Maternal employment;
  • postpartum;
  • breastfeeding;
  • maternal separation anxiety;
  • maternity leave;
  • parental leave

Abstract

Objective: To investigate the association between the mother-infant relationship, defined as maternal-infant emotional attachment, maternal separation anxiety and breastfeeding, and maternal employment status at 10 months following first childbirth.

Method: Samples of employed, pregnant women, over 18 years of age and with sufficient English literacy were recruited systematically from one public and one private maternity hospital in Victoria. Data were collected by structured interview and self-report questionnaire in the third trimester, and at 3 and 10 months postpartum. Socio-demographic, employment, and breastfeeding information was collected. Participants completed standardised assessments of maternal separation anxiety and mother-to-infant emotional attachment.

Results: Of 205 eligible women, 165 (81%) agreed to participate and 129 (78%) provided complete data. A reduced odds of employment participation was independently associated with continuing to breastfeed at 10 months (OR=0.22, p=0.004) and reporting higher maternal separation anxiety (OR=0.23, p=0.01) when maternal age, education, occupational status and use of paid maternity leave and occupational status were adjusted for in analyses.

Conclusion: Employment participation in the first 10 months postpartum is associated with lower maternal separation anxiety, and shorter breastfeeding duration.

Implications: Paid parental leave has public health implications for mothers and infants. These include permitting sufficient time to protect sustained breastfeeding, and the development of optimal maternal infant attachment, reflected in confidence about separation from her infant.