Breastfeeding Moms Face Old-Fashioned Biases

Breastfeeding is one of the most natural and beneficial things mothers can do to nurture and nourish babies. Most health agencies recommend that when biologically feasible, women should breastfeed babies exclusively for the first six months. The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous, including improved health for mom and baby, stronger immunity for baby, and mother/child bonding time. Yet a recent study finds that even though breastfeeding is beneficial for mother and child, there is a strong bias against nursing mothers among both men and women in this country.

Why precisely are people so put off by breastfeeding? Why should natural processes like menstruation, pregnancy and breastfeeding cause people discomfort? Some studies have shown that a perceived decline in competence associated with these aspects of womanhood is usually blamed on women’s warmth and kindness. This phenomenon is referred to as “paternalistic prejudice.” Since we live in an era of women in the boardroom, certainly these old-fashioned biases should be a thing of the past, right? Wrong.

Participants in the study were exposed to various forms of information about breastfeeding (a book, advertisements, etc.) and asked how they perceived breastfeeding moms in terms of overall competence, math skills and likelihood that they would hire a breastfeeding mom as opposed to other groups of women.

In all three studies, the results showed that breastfeeding women were consistently rated less intelligent and less generally competent. Additionally, study participants said they would be less likely to hire breastfeeding moms as compared to others.

Surprisingly the breastfeeding moms seemed to face these biases even though they were not actually seen physically breastfeeding. Another shocking result of the study was that other women were just as offended by the breastfeeding as men.

With the potential stigma surrounding breastfeeding, it’s not surprising that new moms in this country may choose not to breastfeed for fear of how they will be evaluated by others. Researchers hope publication and discussion of these biases will change public opinion. Social change is necessary to increase the awareness of the many benefits of breastfeeding. Since many mothers are required to return to work just six weeks after the birth of their babies, employers should encourage breastfeeding by providing a private place for mothers to nurse their babies.


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  • I’m confident that a disproporti0nate share of the women who look with disfavor on other women breastfeeding are more likely to say they:

    1. Like “natural foods”

    2. Did not breastfeed therre own children if they had any

    3. Are less likely to have children

    4. Are more likely to be currently employed

    5. Think that women’s are more skilled in matters of importance than are men

    6. Are less likely to be married

    7. Are less likley to have ever been married.

    I am a career survey researcher. I know how these things go, and how the analysis and reporting are misleading, even in those few cases were the survey questions themselves were not biased.

  • I totally agree with this. I have breastfed all my children and no matter how discrete I am people are offended. I’ve even been asked to go into a back room at the doctors office because someone was offended by my breastfeeding even though I and the baby were covered. I refuse to feed my baby in a restroom so the world will have to deal with their ridiculous hang up with breastfeeding. And yes I’m a graduate from college pursueing my graduate degree and a licence teacher. I’ve had more comments from women who were offended then with men as well.

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