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.