Breastfeeding Bias

Feeding Time
Creative Commons License photo credit: avhell

If you’ve breastfed, chances are that at some point or another you’ve encountered some bias against the practice. It might be as simple as a disapproving glance, or it  could be more severe such as being asked to breastfeed in a public restroom. According to a new study at Montana State University, this kind of bias is widespread.

What’s particularly disturbing about this study is the way that nursing mothers were perceived by others – both men and women. The study, which came in three parts, looked at how people perceived those breastfeeding mothers in terms of their competence and their work performance.

Here are some of the kinds of ways that breastfeeding moms were perceived in the study:

  • Not as competent, mentally, as other women
  • Less likely to be hired
  • Less competent overall
  • Not as good in math as other people.

The prospect of breastfeeding can be daunting in and of itself, and this kind of bias certainly doesn’t help the situation at all.

The study suggests that there are some things that can be done to reduce this bias, as well. Among them are:

  • Breastfeeding should be promoted overall. The more nursing mothers there are, the less it would seem like a rare or odd behavior.
  • Provide a private place in the workplace for mothers to nurse. This is especially important given that most mothers are required to return to their jobs within about six weeks of giving birth.
  • Continue to stress the benefits of breastfeeding. The Office of Women’s Health in the Department of Health and Human Services has long stressed the benefits of breastfeeding, for example.

The researchers on this project are planning to do a follow-up study looking at some of the social and psychological barriers to breastfeeding for new mothers, as well.

So, what about you? Do you breastfeed? In your decision whether or not to breastfeed, did what other people might think about you enter into that process at all? Have you encountered bias against breastfeeding at all?


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