Biased against breastfeeding

Tom Jacobs at Miller-McCune writes about a study out of Oxford University that shows that, while breast-fed babies fare better at school, the number of American women who choose to breastfeed is “stagnant and low.”

The reason? Apparently, breastfeeding women are judged more harshly:

Research just published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin reports mothers who breastfeed are widely viewed as less competent than otherwise identical females. This disturbing finding was obtained in three separate studies, one of which also found breastfeeding is a handicap for women hoping to be hired for a job.

“Importantly, we did not find evidence that gender of the participant influenced perceptions of the breastfeeding mother,” notes the research team led by Montana State University psychologist Jessi L. Smith.

The experiments that Smith and her colleagues conducted are interesting. Their results show it isn’t parenting per se that colors views of competency:

Rather, the culprit seems to be the mental image of her breasts, whether they’re being used as instruments of sexual allure or infant nutrition. “A woman may not breastfeed because of worry over how she will be evaluated by other people,” the researchers conclude. “Data from the current project suggest this worry may be warranted, to the extent that breastfeeding is a devalued social category.”

So what’s the solution? Smith and her colleagues say health professionals should “teach pregnant women about the sexism they might encounter” when they breastfeed. They also argue that the only way this bias will diminish is if more women choose to breastfeed openly:

“More visible breastfeeding mothers should prompt people to wrestle with and debate the issues,” they write. “With time, greater numbers of women who breastfeed translates to less prejudice.”

Zoe Romanowsky

By

Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in "Catholic Digest," "Faith & Family," "National Catholic Register," "Our Sunday Visitor," "Urbanite," "Baltimore Eats," and Godspy.com. Zo

Crisis Magazine Comments Policy

This is a Catholic forum. As such:

  1. All comments must directly address the article. “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” (Matthew 12:36)
  2. No profanity, ad hominems, hot tempers, or racial or religious invectives. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
  3. We will not tolerate heresy, calumny, or attacks upon our Holy Mother Church or Holy Father. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
  4. Keep it brief. No lengthy rants or block quotes. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
  5. If you see a comment that doesn’t meet our standards, please flag it so a moderator may remove it. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)
  6. All comments may be removed at the moderators’ discretion. “But of that day and hour no one knows…” (Matthew 24:36)
  7. Crisis isn’t responsible for the content of the comments box. Comments do not represent the views of Crisis magazine, its editors, authors, or publishers. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… So each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10, 12)
MENU