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More mothers breastfeeding after California passed paid leave law, study finds

California saw an increase in breastfeeding mothers after passing a 2004 law to provide partially paid leave to new parents, according to a new study from UC San Francisco.

The study, funded by the Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, was published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study authors found that California and New Jersey, which passed a similar law in 2009, saw an increase in breastfeeding mothers that could not be found in states that had no paid family leave law.

Researchers also found a disparity in who benefited most from those laws.

“It’s notable that we see the breastfeeding changes particularly among women of higher social status, a group that is presumably more likely to take advantage of the partially paid leave,” study author Dr. Rita Hamad said in a statement. “These policies only provide new parents with a fraction of their regular salary, so low-income parents may be less likely to take time off.”

In California, new parents are entitled to up to 55 percent of their salary while on family leave.

The study used several metrics, including how long mothers exclusively breastfed.

“When the overall group of mothers in each state was analyzed, the only outcome that increased significantly with the introduction of family leave policies was whether a child was exclusively breastfed at six months,” according to a statement announcing the findings.

The study authors conceded that the survey used to estimate breastfeeding rates did not include employment data; non-working mothers who did not benefit from the paid family leave law were included in the data.

However, Hamad said the findings highlight an important need in America.

“The important point is that both the states we looked at had additional increases right after their paid leave policies were put into place,” she said. “Providing fully paid leave might give low-income mothers and fathers the support to be with their newborns.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months and then continue breastfeeding, while introducing solids, until the baby is a year old or older.

California recently passed another law aimed at helping working breastfeeding mothers.

In 2019, employers will be required to provide their workers with a non-bathroom private area where they can pump breast milk.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler
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