New Notre Dame Study Examines Prenatal Investments, Breastfeeding, and Birth Order

Author: William G. Gilroy

Mother and baby

Many mothers can relate to the experience of having hundreds of pictures of their first-born child, but far fewer of their younger children. A new study by University of Notre Dame economist Kasey Buckles finds that those younger children often get less attention in other ways as well.

Buckles, Brian and Jeannelle Brady Associate Professor in the Department of Economics, and Shawna Kolka ’12, senior research associate at Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities, used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979 Child and Young Adult Survey to investigate differences in investments in health and in the incidence of breastfeeding by birth order. The survey provides detailed information on prenatal and postnatal behaviors of women.

“Our main finding is that, on average, mothers are less likely to make certain investments in their later-born children before and soon after they are born,” Buckles said. “For example, mothers are 15 percent less likely to breastfeed a second-born child than a first and are 21 percent less likely to breastfeed a fourth or higher-order child. They are also less likely to take prenatal vitamins and seek prenatal care for their later-born children.”

Kasey Buckles Kasey Buckles

Buckles notes that she doesn’t yet know the key factors that make mothers less likely to invest in higher order births. However, she offers some possible causes.

“Some possibilities are that resources like time and money are more constrained for higher-order births,” she said. “It may also be that mothers learn things in earlier births that affect their later decisions.”

Regardless of the key factors at work, Buckles feels that the research offers important suggestions for health providers.

“We believe that these results are important for providers as they identify high birth order as a risk factor for under-investment in maternal or child health and well-being,” she said. “Providers may want to emphasize the importance of prenatal vitamins, early prenatal care, breastfeeding, and other behaviors to their higher-order patients.”

The study appears in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

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