The Importance of Fathers’ Gender Role Beliefs and Mothers’ Work Identity for Mothers’ Work and Breastfeeding Decisions



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We add to the nascent research on the reconciliation of work and breastfeeding by utilizing a social role theory framework to examine how maternal work identity and father’s social role expectations towards maternal employment shape the number of hours women decide to work upon their return after leave, and how these factors shape maternal breastfeeding continuation decisions. We test a theoretical model grounded in social role theory to examine the mother’s return to work hours and breastfeeding duration, integrating father’s gender role expectations for new mothers, and mothers’ work identity. We leverage the National Institute of Child Health and Development’s (NICHD) longitudinal Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD). The SECCYD constitutes a multi-source, multi-wave data set. We use moderated mediation analyses to test our theory-derived propositions, using multi-wave data consisting of nine time points from n=152 families, tracking families from the birth of a child to three years post birth. The results support our hypotheses; fathers’ beliefs about maternal employment relate positively to mothers’ work hours, which in return relates negatively to breastfeeding continuation. Mothers’ work identity buffers this effect, such that this indirect effect is only significant if work is not highly central to the mother’s identity. Practical implications include providing a phased return to work for new parents, and designing interventions to improve family and breastfeeding supportive organizational cultures.



breastfeeding, gender role beliefs, return to work, identity