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While breastfeeding is associated with health benefits for both mothers and children, it may also make it difficult for mothers to return to the labor market early. Maternity and parental leave regulations have been developed to mitigate this conflict. In 2007, Germany passed a reform introducing a new parental leave benefit (Elterngeld). In this paper, we address the question of whether the new parental leave benefit impacts breastfeeding initiation and duration in Germany. We use the reform as an exogenous policy variation to obtain causal evidence on breastfeeding behavior, applying a difference-in-differences approach. Mothers in particular benefit from the reform especially if they were employed prior to childbirth or if they have a household income above the income threshold of the previous parental leave scheme (treatment group). The reform did not bring significant changes within the first year of a child’s life for all other mothers (control group). We draw on representative survey data from the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) study. Three breastfeeding measures are used for the 2004 to 2009 cohorts: (1) breastfeeding at birth; (2) breastfeeding for at least 4 months; and (3) breastfeeding for at least 6 months. We find no effect of the Elterngeld reform on breastfeeding initiation but do observe an effect on breastfeeding duration. Our results are robust over various sensitivity tests, including placebo regressions, the application of matching approaches, and controlling for regional indicators, among others. Thus, our empirical results provide evidence that the reform’s goal of allowing parents to spend more time with their children during the first year of life also impacted breastfeeding behavior.
Breastfeeding, Parental leave, Reform effects, Germany
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