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Maternal employment, attachment, and breastfeeding: Pathways to early childhood problem behaviors

Laci A. Fiala Ades, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


One of the major trends of the last century has been the increase in the number of women in the paid labor force, particularly women with children. Research, theory, and the general public, however, often question the effect of early maternal employment on child outcomes. The present work assesses the impact of work, specifically employment in the first year, on child outcomes at 36 months as well as breastfeeding duration, attachment, and the pathways linking these variables together. The potential moderating effect of poverty on these paths was also tested. Cross-sections of data from the first three years of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (NICHD-SECCYD) were analyzed utilizing Structural Equation Modeling in MPlus. Results indicated that, for all mothers, working part-time was a protective factor, while working full-time was a risk factor for problem behaviors at 36 months. The most consistent results indicated that working full-time in the first year significantly reduced the breastfeeding durations for all mothers and that more securely attached children displayed fewer problem behaviors in early childhood. Even after the inclusion of control variables, breastfeeding was consistently and significantly related to increased attachment security at 24 months. Working full-time at 3 and 6 months was related, indirectly to child problem behaviors at 36 months through breastfeeding duration and attachment. Finally, poverty was shown to moderate many of these relationships. Most importantly, the effect of maternal employment, particularly full-time employment in the first year was different for families above than for those below the poverty line. Mothers above the poverty line who were working full-time had children who demonstrated significantly more problem behaviors at 36 months than those whose mothers were not working. For those living below the poverty line, working full-time at 1 month was related to fewer problems at 36 months. Attachment security also was shown to have a stronger impact for impoverished families. Overall, it needs to be recognized that maternal employment in the first year of life has both a direct and indirect impact on child outcomes. These effects, however, differ depending on poverty status, indicating that different types of policinalies surrounding family and work need to be considered.^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Psychology, Developmental|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

Recommended Citation

Ades, Laci A. Fiala, "Maternal employment, attachment, and breastfeeding: Pathways to early childhood problem behaviors" (2009). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3369361.