Breastfeeding and infants' time use


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Content type
Research report

June 2009



Being breastfed during infancy is known to improve developmental outcomes, but the pathways by which this occurs remain unclear. One possible yet unexplored mechanism is that breastfed infants may spend their time differently to infants who are not breastfed. This paper analyses infants' time use according to breastfeeding status in order to help inform the debate about how breastfeeding leads to improved child outcomes.

The analysis uses infants' time use data from the first wave (2004) of Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), derived from diaries completed by the parents of almost 3,000 Australian infants aged 3-14 months. It explores how much time infants spend in activities such as being held or cuddled, read or talked to, or crying, using data on whether or not infants were still breastfeeding, and taking into account other child and family characteristics. It also compares time spent in different social contexts. Finally, the paper uses the time use data to analyse which infants were still breastfeeding, and what factors are associated with differences in time spent breastfeeding.

The results show that breastfed infants spend more time being held or cuddled and being read or talked to, and less time sleeping, or eating, drinking or being fed other foods. They also cried slightly more, and watched television slightly less than infants who were not being breastfed. Those who breastfed spent more time with their parents, and in particular, almost one additional hour a day alone with their mother compared to non-breastfeeding infants.

These findings have important implications for how children grow, and show the value of time use data in exploring pathways to development for infants and young children. The possibility that cognitive advantages for breastfed children may arise from their distinct patterns of time use and social contexts during the breastfeeding phase is an important area for future research using survey data such as from LSAC.


Jennifer Baxter is a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), where she works largely on employment issues as they relate to families with children. Since starting at AIFS, Jennifer has made a significant contribution to a number of important reports, including the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) Social Policy Research Paper No. 30, Mothers and Fathers with Young Children: Paid Employment, Caring and Wellbeing (Baxter, Gray, Alexander, Strazdins, and Bittman, 2007) and AIFS' submission to the Productivity Commission Parental Leave Inquiry (2008). She has also contributed several Family Matters articles and had work published in other journals. Her research interests include maternal employment following childbearing, child care use, job characteristics and work-family spillover, breastfeeding, children's time use and parental time with children. She has made extensive use of data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) to explore these areas of research. Jennifer was awarded a PhD in the Demography and Sociology Program of the ANU in 2005. Her work experience includes more than fifteen years in the public sector, having worked in a number of statistical and research positions in government departments.

Julie Smith is a Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health at the Australian National University (ANU). She has published over 20 articles on public finance and health policy issues in peer-reviewed journals across several disciplines. She has authored two books on taxation (Taxing Popularity and Gambling Taxation in Australia), and received an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral (APD) Fellowship and Discovery Project funding for her research on the economics of mothers' milk. She conducted a significant national survey of new mothers' time use in 2006-07. Her research interests include: economic aspects of breastfeeding; the time use of new mothers ; non-market economic production and the care economy; taxation, tax expenditures and public finance policy; economics of the non-profit sector; tobacco control; and health financing. Julie was previously a senior economist in the Australian and New Zealand treasuries, and a Visiting Fellow in the Economics Program at the ANU Research School of Social Sciences. She was awarded a PhD in Economics (ANU) in 2003.

The authors would like to thank reviewers Denise Drane (Northwestern University) and Sara Raley (University of Maryland), as well as Jennifer Renda, Matthew Gray and Alan Hayes of AIFS, for providing valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper. Any remaining errors or omissions remain our own.

This Research Paper makes use of data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. LSAC was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Featured image: © iStock/Zurijeta


Baxter, J., & Smith, J. P. (2009). Breastfeeding and infants' time use (Research Paper No. 43). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.