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Monday
Apr042011

The smarter you are, the stupider you look

Look at this woman.

What are your impressions of her?


Now take a look at her again.

What are your impressions now?

Did anything change?



The latest baffling study


A recent study called Spoiled Milk: An Experimental Examination of Bias Against Mothers Who Breastfeed by Jessi L. Smith, Kristin Hawkinson, and Kelli Paull (all from Montana State University) found that breastfeeding mothers are seen as less competent than other women. The researchers were surprised by the results. In fact, parentcentral.ca notes that the researchers were so baffled by the results that they conducted three studies, instead of just one, to confirm and further understand the results.

In the first study, participants read a description of a celebrity (Brooke Shields) who wrote a book about her experiences with breastfeeding or bottle feeding.  The results found that the breastfeeding "celebrity" was given higher warmth ratings and lower competence ratings compared to the formula feeding "celebrity".

Based on the results of the first study, the researchers wanted to explore further the way that breasts (lactating, sexualized or neither) are viewed. In this second study, participants were told they were participating in a marketing study and were shown an advertisement for a nipple cream, which was either for "nursing mothers to soothe chaffed nipples after nursing" or for "joggers to soothe chaffed nipples after exercise" or for "women to refresh nipples before intimacy."  The jogger was viewed as the most competent in general and in the workplace. The workplace competence levels of the sexualized woman and the breastfeeding woman were equal, but the general competence of the breastfeeding mother was seen as lower than that of the sexualized woman. As a result, overall, the breastfeeding woman was seen as the least competent.

The third study tested further whether mothers in general are seen as less competent or if it is specifically breastfeeding mothers. In this case, the participants were asked to listen to a voicemail left by a man indicating that he would pick the woman up an hour later because he figured she would want to go home first. The reason for her wanting to go home varied though:


  • Breastfeeding emphasis: “I figured you would want to go home and breastfeed the baby before we left anyway. If I don’t hear back I will assume that’s the plan.”

  • Mother only emphasis: “I figured you would want to go home and give the baby a bath before we left anyway. If I don’t hear back I will assume that’s the plan.”

  • Sexual breast emphasis: “I figured you would want to go home and change into your strapless bra before we left anyway. If I don’t hear back I will assume that’s the plan.”

  • No emphasis: “I figured you would want to go home before we left anyway. If I don’t hear back I will assume that’s the plan.”



The results of this study showed that the breastfeeding mother (who was rated the lowest on all four competence variables) was a victim of sexism, but that there was not a similar "motherhood" penalty for the woman who was going to go home and bathe the baby.

The participants in all of these studies were college students. There was no gender bias shown among the participants (i.e. the ratings of women were not different from the ratings of men).

Who is really less competent?


In my opinion, this study says more about the intelligence levels of the participants (who may or may not be representative of society in general) than it does about mothers or breastfeeding women.

There is no rational reason to think that breastfeeding mothers are less competent.  Breastfeeding is better for the health of babies than formula feeding, so mothers who choose to breastfeed are making an intelligent choice about how to feed their babies. Also, as can be seen from the chart below, women with higher levels of education are more likely to initiate and continue breastfeeding than women with lower levels of education. Since higher education is often associated with higher levels of competence and since more educated mothers are more likely to breastfeed, it should follow that breastfeeding mothers would be seen as more competent.

Source: Canadian Maternity Experiences Survey (Public Health Agency of Canada)

Since there is no logical explanation, we have to look for less logical and unfortunate societal explanations. The study points to some possible explanations:

  • Animalistic nature: Breasteeding may remind people of the animalistic nature of humanity, which may result in breastfeeding women being seen as more like animals and less like intellectual beings.

  • Mother vs. non-mother: In general, mothers are seen as warmer, but less competent than non-mothers.

  • Sexualization: Breasts are highly sexualized in Western culture. As a result, since our society devalues sexualized women and devalues mothers, breastfeeding mothers are particularly prone to being devalued.

  • Housewife versus career woman: Another study found that career women are perceived as being less "warm" but more competent than a housewife. If people assume that breastfeeding mothers must be stay-at-home mothers, then this may play into the prejudice too.


Put all of that together and there are plenty of potential reasons, based in patriarchal prejudices, why there are negative prejudices against breastfeeding mothers. But are they justified? Not at all. I think these studies just help make a point about the problems in our society, including the oversexualization of women's bodies and the lack of value assigned to caring roles.

Good thing smart moms don't care what others think, right?


Maybe, or maybe not.  The truth is that a lot of us do care what others think about us. People unfortunately often view their own self-worth through the eyes of others. So if breastfeeding mothers feel like others are judging them to be less competent, then they might start to view themselves that way too.

More importantly though, if people's perceptions of breastfeeding moms are keeping them from being offered the same opportunities as their non-lactating counterparts, then there is a real problem. Are breastfeeding women more likely to be passed over for promotions or interesting assignments? Are breastfeeding women less likely to get a job or to get the salary they deserve? This is the reason that I tell moms who need to pump at work to not mention it in job interviews and instead to only bring it up after they have a signed letter of offer in their hand. Even then, once the word gets out, there is no guarantee that they won't be punished for it.

Breastfeeding advocacy is still needed, but perhaps the audience needs to change


Moms who wanted to breastfeed, but were unable to do so often say: "Enough already with the breastfeeding promotion. We know breast is best. Stop making us feel guilty."  Perhaps they are right. Moms do know that breast is best. But does the rest of the world know that breastfeeding is an intelligent choice? Perhaps we need to educate non-mothers on the reasons why breastfeeding is an intelligent choice. Maybe we need to show them that women can and do combine breastfeeding with other intellectual accomplishments. Perhaps this would not only improve the perceptions of breastfeeding mothers, but also help ensure that others help them instead of undermining them

Tell me: How do we teach the world that women are not secreting brain cells through their milk ducts?



Image credits: Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition

« I caved... | Main | What revolution? Why haven't women pushed harder for caring work to be valued? »

Reader Comments (48)

Very interesting post. I bet it has to do with the participants of the study - college students. I know when I was in college I put down my own ability/desires to be a mother with thoughts that I wanted 'more', I wanted a career, i didn't want to be a housewife and I certainly didn't want to be kept from working because of children.

A mom who breastfeeds is essentially tethered to another human via the boob and at the college age, I would have poo-poo'd on that idea at every chance. It's just not the right stage of life to be asking people about family obligations. Life is all about freedom at that stage. Breastfeeding is the ultimate vision of a mother devoted to her kids.

Now that I am a mom, and a breastfeeding one to boot, I know of course that the idea of 'career' can take on several forms and that just because I have kids doesn't mean I can't work. And being devoted to my kids gives me the highest feeling of competency I've ever had.

If they repeated the study and asked the same questions of 45 year olds I wonder how different the results would be?

Of course, there is always a need for more education regarding breastfeeding but education is useless if the audience is closed to its message. Breastfeeding is really only important to moms (and some dads). I can't see a 20 year old male giving a hoot, never mind 'getting' the message.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

Did you see how small & homogenous the sample was? Less than 100 college students. So it's hard to say whether it'd be replicated in a broader study. But it is depressing and warrants further study IMO.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaman A Droit

I definitely think this says more about the people who were in the study than breastfeeding mothers. Like you state, mothers who breastfeed (in my experience) have been those who have higher levels of education and who are also more worldly.

As a mother who is still breastfeeding (my now 3 year old) I have to say that I do NOT care what people think about my breastfeeding. People who think breastfeeding is disgusting or that it makes me less competent - well those are the type of people I wouldn't ask for an opinion of other subjects regarding parenting or life in general I guess. It boggles my mind when people see negativity in breastfeeding and don't see it for what it simply is.

I also don't think its necessarily college students either. Most people formula feed - maybe as a result most people will see formula feeders as most competent because they are one of those mothers.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

I agree that this study may say more about the participants and their intelligence level. It seems that women in general are devalued and the traditional roles that they have assumed for many years are also devalued as well... like teaching, nursing, homemaking, social work to name only a few. Probably if you studied how people viewed men who now are teachers, nurses, homemakers, administrative assistants you would find the same bias. Are men in traditionally female careers less intelligent???
If you are helping yourself climb the life ladder...that is admirable...if you are helping others to climb the life ladder that is undervalued.
Helping is undervalued ... even when a successful person thanks his/her mother profusely for his/her success as well as the many others who helped him/her along the way we respond..."AHHH isn't that sweet!"
Those of us who are in a helping 'career' like motherhood are smart enough to realize that yes we are important and that just maybe we personally will never be given the so deserved recognition.
Hopefully, we nurturers will continue to nurture and help despite this study's sad findings.

Until women and moms are valued in the work world no matter what career they choose and until helping is valued there will not be too much improvement in how a breastfeeding woman is viewed. Breastfeeding is the ultimate in helping... a child get off to a healthy start.

Thanks for this post...so enlightening...sometimes so much seems to be changing but so much stays the same.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLorette Lavine

Great post Annie! As a 29 year-old BFing a 10-month old, I appreciate the "animalistic nature of breastfeeding" as we're doing what nature intended; humans are animals, mammals to be exact, and mammals breastfeed their young!

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Walker

Well, in my decade spent in academia, the issue of whether college undergraduates were really representative of the general population came up many, many times. Ideally, this sort of study should be conducted across a wider population (capturing different age ranges) as well as across different geographical areas (no offense Montana...).

If I reflect back to being an undergraduate, topics such as breastfeeding just were not at all on my radar. I suppose I could have drawn some general conclusions about the benefits of breastmilk over formula (based on assumptions about mom vs. machine made food), but it really wasn't until I was about to become a mother where the immense benefits became known to me.

-Christine

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBoston Mamas

I'm so glad you wrote on this. An issue that reading the study brought up for me was that most people assume that breastfeeding and infant feeding issues only matter to mothers (or at least that it should). That is a major obstacle to creating a society where breastfeeding is supported.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermegan w.

I have to say, this study seems a little nutty to me. When I have participated in studies that ask things like this, there is no option for "this is totally irrelevant." They make you answer. If you asked me the question which woman was more "competent" in that voicemail question, my answer would be "clearly not you because where the hell would I get any sense of competence of the woman receiving the message from any of that drivel." Maybe I just need to read this more carefully, but this doesn't feel like the conclusions are any more meaningful than from asking someone between chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream, which one looks the coldest and then using it to determine why sales figures of these flavors differ.

Am I missing something here?

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicki

I found this post so interesting. I never considered education to have any bearing on breastfeeding decisions. I know for me it must have played a role, I have a BA (Hons) in History of Modern Art and a MSc in Marketing which gave me the tools to research for myself what I wanted to do, especially as I live in France where, when I had my baby, French was very hard for me to understand and communicate in. My own personal research was the secret to my success breastfeeding and resulted in my starting my blog. Fascinating. What a great post.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMummyinProvence

I've breastfed three children and I must say, "competent" is not one of the words I would use to describe myself as a breastfeeding mom. Distracted, sleep-deprived, sometimes harried, often blissed out and occasionally completely lost in the loving gaze of my infant, yes. But on top of my game in any aspect of life other than nurturing my infant? Not so much. I would be much more likely to hand a breastfeeding mom a glass of water than to ask her for help with a tax form.

Maybe thinking of breastfeeding moms as busy, occupied persons who should not be expected to "perform" or "produce" at the same level as people who are not breastfeeding is not a bad thing.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy

I saw that study a couple weeks ago, I think @KellyNaturally tweeted it. And I was baffled. I just don't understand- perhaps because I have never heard of anything negative said about breastfeeding mothers (I know it happens, just not in my social circle I guess).

You make some very very good points about discrimination and lack of opportunities. Women of child-bearing age are already at a disadvantage based on assumptions people make, if breastfeeding add to these disadvantages... not cool.

Also, I really appreciate the points you make about considering shifting advocacy from mothers to gaining support from the rest of society. As you know, I have a 'thing' about the way breastfeeding advocacy is done and I would be very happy to see a shift towards more advocating for support.

Also, the title for your post just might be one of the best titles I have seen in blogging. HA!!!

When I look at the second photo, I think "awesome," and "way to go." Thank you for all the information in this article.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaitlin Rose

I love that you have brought up the fact that educating people who are not yet parents (boys too!) about breastfeeding is exactly what advocacy needs. Breastfeeding is something that should be taught in high school, as part of health class or sex ed. It's why public breastfeeding is so important. Children need to see and be taught that breastfeeding is normal and smart and they will grow up knowing this.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

I really wish people would stop sharing this "study". I think it hurts women and mothers and only serves to reinforce negative opinions of women and mothers. What 100 college students think about nursing mothers is totally irrelevant. Giving this bad "science" credence by sharing it is wrong-headed and does nothing to educate people or change attitudes.

This was my first thought, too -- it was the age of the participants in the study. When I was in my early 20s and still thinking I was going to be a "career woman," I said I would never breastfeed, but when it was time to make those decisions, there was no way I would have willingly done anything but. And now I'm a SAHM who could care less about having a career. Priorities and values shift over time, and most young people have never given a moment's thought to parenting issues of any kind. Ask the same group of people again in 15 years and I bet you'd get at least somewhat different responses.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStar

Heather:

I understand what you are saying, but am concerned nonetheless. Many college graduates go on to be the colleagues and sometimes managers of breastfeeding women. I would be concerned if they make negative judgments (conscious or not) about the competence of a woman because she is breastfeeding.

I also wonder if the results would be different with a group of 45 year olds. Do people change their attitudes with age? Or do they only change them if they actually go on to be a breastfeeding mother?

With regards to breastfeeding education, I think there needs to be more of it, but it doesn't always need to be explicit. We need more breastfeeding mothers on children's television, in books, in movies, and so on. Anywhere you see moms and babies, breastfeeding should be part of it. I think if it is seen as a mainstream choice by society (and not just by moms who have done their research), then people will be less likely to judge someone negatively for choosing to breastfeed their infant.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

i believe mothers r a strong part of future generations. what we say our children, do, or voice opinions or our behavior to committments will leave an imprint on our children. some may have a larger imprint of their parents, some maybe will be defined more then others by their mothers and fathers. mothers are the first teachers to a child, so to help future breastfeeding, even if some were not able to breastfeed i think normalising it in our parenting. awareness that the primary function of breasts r for food n sustaining life, and their secondary function was merely apdopted. to counter act the "squirmishness" around a lactating woman we should try to raise all children no matter what age, that breastfeeding is needed part of society and years before formula it helped countries populate n survive. maslow's theory that we as adults, how we r is made with in 5years and that what defines us is 50% nature & 50% nurture. i would like to see posters of why us mothers should breastfeed not only for the fact breast is best but we should normalise it even after we are no longer breastfeeding, discuss it with our growing children, incorperate it into schooling curriculum. teach our children, our future society of not so much why breast is best but is normal all over our planet, it is an act that unites us past lanuage. its in every race's DNA. we are made to breastfeed.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterzandria tapp

Jennifer:

Yes, you are right. But doing what nature intended means that as humans we also use our brains. That doesn't get turned off when we breastfeed our young.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

EXACTLY!

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Nicki:

I'm sure one option would have been to rate all of the women equally if someone thought that those factors were completely irrelevant.

I do think this type of research is important in understanding (and addressing) the perceptions of society and they do need to find a way to find out without outright asking: "Do you think breastfeeding women are less competent?"

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Betsy:

Is it breastfeeding that does that to you? Or is it being the mom of an infant?

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thanks! :)

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Leslie:

I agree that it should be taught in school in health class, but I think it should also be pervasive in other parts of the curriculum and of society. Whenever babies are discussed or viewed, breastfeeding should be part of that picture.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Samantha:

It is not irrelevant. It is a symptom of a problem in the way that society perceives breastfeeding. Perhaps in your line of work, it doesn't matter. But for women working in blue collar jobs who might have a recent college graduate as their manager or for women in white collar jobs whose colleagues, clients or managers may have these attitudes, it does matter.

I don't think this study is useless, but I also don't think it should be where things end. I think we need to understand whether the attitude of these college students does spill over into the workplace. If it does, we have a problem that needs to be addressed.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Anecdotally, I'd say yes, people can change their attitudes to breastfeeding mothers over time regardless of whether they themselves become parents - I'm 38 and I have noticed a discernible shift in the attitudes of my (non-parent) age peers in the workplace and friendship circles as we've all gotten older. Of course some of this must be put down to the fact that these people are interacting with an increasing number of parents, some of whom breastfeed, as time goes on!

This is not to claim that the attitudes and views of competence expressed in the study are not troubling, just that I do think that age and stage of life has a lot to do with it as well. At 19 I might have given similar answers myself (I hope I wouldn't have, but breastfeeding was not really on my radar at that time, and nor was parenthood), but by my late twenties, well before I had children of my own, exposure to more ... life .... and more information and more breastfeeding mothers had most certainly shifted my perspective.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

You know, I've heard and seen a lot of ignorance towards breastfeeding, especially coming from younger people with no kids. The results of this study doesn't really surprise me.
I think the best way to go about changing these negative view on breastfeeding is education, starting from early on.
My brother in law was about 14 when I was prego with my first. You know, he asked me if I was going to breastfeed. I told him yes and he said that's so awesome because he learned in school about how good it was to breastfeed and then of course he told me everything he learned about it. More recently he asked me about what I thought about extended breastfeeding and I deferred the question to him to see what he thought before I gave my opinion....he was all for it! Now, I've never seen a young person, a teenage boy in particular have such a positive view of breastfeeding and it's all due to the education he got in school in his health class....that was all it took.
And as far as those 2 pics go....the second one is of course the one I identify with.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAntonella

One thing I wa thinking about is the fact that in the US the maternity/parental benefits are way worse and most mons have to go back yo work only a couple of months after having the baby. This could mean that a breastfeeding mom would be interpreted as being less intelligent/competent by being a stay-at-home-mom. Please don't take this the wrong way, as I'm a BFing SAHM - I'm just taking about perceptions. :) I also think that the study is a bit silly in that they were surprised by the results, so they repeated the study twice more - but they didn't think to change up the sample group! Anyway, I think it's good regardless because it will (hopefully) bring more awareness and education about BFing to the general public. What could be bad about that :)

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda L

PhD.. it's not that the *issue* is irrelevant, but again I agree with Samantha (who said it so much better than I did) that this is garbage science. If we are going to use study results to motivate change, it has to be a valid study. This is absolutely "bad science" and not just the result, but because the methodology is (at least as described above) moronic.

April 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicki

Annie, that's exactly what I think too, nobody will react well to facts, facts, facts being constantly shown to them. Breastfeeding needs to be seen, television would be a great way of doing this, in regular soap operas etc. The media is so powerful.

With regard to the study, great post by the way, it's not surprising to me that breastfeeding mothers are viewed as less competent. Because the (zillions) of benefits of breastfeeding aren't so widely known, I think it is seen as something a mother 'likes' to do, rather than needs to for the benefit of herself and her child. I feel that people are thinking 'oh God is she still doing that???! Jeez!, why doesn't she just stop and be more productive with her life?' ...well actually I am seriously productive!!! I have breastfed my 16 month old to be the strapping boy he is thankyouverymuch!!! : )

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAine

I think that 100 college age students is a way too small of a study to be making conclusions. There is an interesting result that needs further study. There is not not enuf data here. The study needs replication with a different set of observers.

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Morelli

Interesting, I was going to say it's the age of the participants too, but for a different reason. In North America, we often don't see women breastfeeding in real life until we reach the parenting stage of our lives. So we don't have the chance to associate it with working, successful, competent women until later. We do, however, see plenty of National Geographic type images of poor and distressed women breastfeeding. Those images give the impression that it's something you do if you can't afford better. Maybe the respondents correlate that impression of poverty with incompetence.

I think it would be interesting to ask the same group again in a few years.

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKrissyFair

A pediatrician who is a spokesperson for the AAP and a breastfeeding advocate told me that recently she was looking at college websites with her son and was shocked to see advertisements from a major infant formula company at some of the college gateway websites--websites that get very high traffic because they compare colleges, offer virtual tours, etc. Perhaps that accounts for some of the perception among college students.

This article does little to help, I agree with Samantha, CNM. however, this little is important. As another mom said in the comments, it tells us how important is to bring the breastfeeding issue to the system education, high school and college where it fits. If we dont change the vision of the young people, we are going to keep repeating the same mistakes, as society.

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

>>Are breastfeeding women more likely to be passed over for promotions or interesting assignments? Are breastfeeding women less likely to get a job or to get the salary they deserve?

This, above, is less due to general "compentency" thoughts about breastfeeding; and likely more due to overall compentency thoughts about women - particularly mothers - in the workplace. Breastfeeding certainly complicate this issue. Because not only do workplaces value women less than men, and mothering women less than women without children, but nursing women even less than that due to the perceived time that it will take away from a nursing mothers' work face time to pump (and in many cases, it's is a real, concrete amount of time that a breastfeeding woman isn't working where a non-breastfeeding woman *is* working). Add to that, the perception that a pumping mom spends less time at her desk, and requires "special treatment", and you have overall a less-ideal candidate than a woman without kids, or, a man. Certainly there is work that can be done to change the mindset that time spent pumping is "wasted" time - since breastfed children are more likely to be healthy, resulting in less lost worktime overall. This is where the messages of "breast is best" ARE important - because it's just plain true. Breastfed children are healthier, breastfeeding mothers are healthier. Breastmilk is better for babies and for mothers.

But in general with regards to job competency, a mother with a young baby is seen as less competant as a childfree woman in the workplace, breastfeeding or no. There's nothing overt taking from the latter's focus or time at work. It's more of a how-society-views-mothers problem, less of a breastfeeding problem.

With regards to the study participants, and overall cultural perceptions of breastfeeding, I think attitudes and opinions and even decisions about breastfeeding are made long before even getting to college age. So much has to do with whether or not your own mother or female caregivers breastfed and/or what her attitude towards breastfeeding was. When I was active in LLL I saw this time & again - the best attitudes towards breastfeeding mothers came from women who had experienced breastfeeding in their immediate family. It is the woman who makes the choice to breastfeed, and her attitudes are usually firmly entrenched long before having a child.

I think if change is going to happen, it's less with grown women, and more through reaching children; incorporating the benefits of breastfeeding into school health programs, normalizing breastfeeding in public so children see that it's the normal way to feed babies, not freaking out over breastfeeding dolls for kids, even posters in high schools.

Thank you for your thought-provoking analysis, Annie.

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

One other thing to think of when we think about education isn't necessarily that BF mothers breastfeed because they are better educated (or "smarter"), but that educated women have greater access to information and support, and (generally speaking) a greater sense of entitlement at receiving support, both at home, in a doctor's office, and most importantly, in the workplace. These are all crucial factors (and explain why BF rates break down similarly along racial/ethnic lines as well - ie women of color are less likely to BF than white mothers, with the lowest rates among African American mothers). I'm an academic who BFs, and part of my success as BF while working is a) having a private office where I can pump and b) having a relatively flexible job situation when I can pump whenever I want or bring the baby in to feed or go home if I need to.

I think this study is important if only because it gets us talking about Annie's most important point - BF education needs to expand beyond mothers/ pregnant women to make it more firmly entrenched.

@ Kelly - I totally agree about family influence. It's interesting because my mother BF both of us, and I know that I knew that when I was a teenager, but we never talked about it. She enjoyed BF, but she wasn't an advocate or anything. I didn't see a picture of her nursing one of us until I was in my 20s. But I'm convinced that having that example made me much more aware of BF as normal, as something people *do*, even though it was never a topic of conversation and I never saw or heard about another woman BF until I was in my 20s.

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Definately -- it's being the mom of an infant. But when people hear breastfeeding I think they think of tiny infants, the kind that wake you up every couple hours, not of a nursing toddler who sleeps through the night. When people hear the term "baby" though, it can just mean the youngest person in the family who could be five-years old. So "giving the baby a bath" or "giving the baby a bottle" doesn't say brand new mom to people in the same way that "nursing the baby" does.

I'm always shocked by the negative opinions the general public has of breastfeeding and I would very much like to see our nursing culture become much much much healthier.

I am wary though, of the kind of advocacy that insists that a woman should be able to have a baby, be back at work in one or two or three weeks, pump all day, nurse all night, and not skip a beat. It just sounds so punishing to me and I worry we're loading to much onto to moms if we insist breastfeeding is no big deal.

I realize I'm going off point here. What can I say? I'm breastfeeding right now!

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy

I'd be curious to see the results of a study about wheather the father's of breastfed infants were percieved as more or less competent.

And wonder if new dads are less or more likely to get promoted following the birth of a child?

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy

There's also the aspect that sometimes college students become parents. So if at that age there's a bias against breastfeeding, then those who, at that age, become mothers are then less likely to breastfeed, which also needs to be addressed.

I would be very interested to see further research on this, what attitudes are like for other age groups.

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

This study absolutely shocked me! I've been sitting here for ten minutes trying to take it in. For me, the fact that the study participants were college students and that there were so few of them doesn't make a lot of difference. Like she said further up in the comments, those people will be future colleagues and bosses of nursing mothers, and will probably also have to make a decision for themselves whether or not to breastfeed.

And if people have such negative opinions of mothers who breastfeed (and I think breastfeeding is pretty mainstream now), I'd hate to see what they think of mothers who do such things as homebirths, babywearing, or co-sleeping.

I'm still just so shocked and saddened by this. I know it's awful of me to judge other mothers, but I've always sort of had the opposite opinion.

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Surprising. Would love to see more studies like this with different audiences. I'm also wondering if the students aren't equating "advancement" of "better" formulas with being a smarter choice. Or rationalizing that formula is something that's been scientifically developed by smart minds and therefore, must be better. Of course, this theory isn't logical, but adds to your list of illogical reasons. I know we could come up with perhaps a hundreds of theories behind the bias, and don't want to get caught up in it, but can't help but thinking further about each of those reasons might help get the message across.

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristine

When I brought this up with some friends a couple days ago, one of them mentioned that they thought it might have been reflective of the age of the individuals polled.

I think that makes sense and I don't think it's something to be overly alarmed about if that's the case, although I don't think it's right either. Obviously young adults should understand how breastfeeding functions and should have access to information and positive imagery regarding breastfeeding, but many don't. I myself was 19 before I found out that humans lactated, and now I've gone on to become a breastfeeding mother. That said, my initial reaction to the idea that a bunch of college students thought breastfeeding mothers were less intelligent was PANIC, but then my friend pointed something out: ALOT of us started out in exactly that place. I did. She did. But you throw them in the work force for a couple years, force them to come to terms with breastfeeding coworkers, give them a bunch of people in different age groups who have children and make jokes about parenthood, etc, and you'll end up with a completely different study group. Kids in college are still predominantly exposed to people of the same age, in the same phase of their life - in a few years, that will change and I'd be surprised if the study results didn't change too.

I just think it's a crappy study to begin with in that it isn't representative of the population as a whole, but after that I also think it's more indicative of how young people without exposure to breastfeeding think. Not much of a shocker that people without much life experience exposure would react negatively to it.

I'm pretty sure that my perceptions when I was a university student would be a lot different than my perceptions today. This would be true of breastfeeding, but also childbirth and co-sleeping and infant crying and a whole host of parenting issues. So I'm not particularly alarmed if today's university students think I'm not so smart. Their opinions will change in 10 years when they're sitting in my seat.

As for how we change perceptions, I think that the increase in breastfeeding rates will do that, albeit slowly. When today's university students were children, breastfeeding rates were lower. Women who worked were probably far less likely to breastfeed. Maternity leaves were shorter and workplaces were less accommodating. I hope that as today's children, who are growing up in a time when more of their mothers breastfed, and especially combined work and breastfeeding, attitudes will change.

April 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

[...] Women who breastfeed are perceived as less competent. [...]

[...] old news on the internet already, and you can read other people’s responses elsewhere. On PhD in Parenting, for [...]

I agree, but I can already see some feminists having a problem with increasing the imagery of breastfeeding out there because;

a) It may make women who choose not to or cannot breastfeed feel guilty about formula feeding their babies
b) It promotes the image of women being tied to their babies and slaves to their biology
c) It promotes inequality because feeding from the breast can only be done by the mother
d) It can be seen as conservative political or religious interference to promote women staying home with their babies to breastfeed instead of getting back into the workforce soon after the birth

I'm a feminist and don't believe these things and do welcome more incorporation of breastfeeding into society, but I've heard some of these arguments before.

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterB

[...] Education and breastfeeding [...]

I have decided to focus more on the mothers early in her pregnancy to teach culture of why she has developed these lopsided feelings about breastfeeding.She needs to understand her uneasy misgiving attitude about her body. I focused on family and community for a while and still offer support.But I have decided to really commit to giving these mothers the tools to be strong enough to say yes when others around are saying no.
I can not go home with them so I have to make sure they are committed.

October 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTerry Jo Curtis IBCLC

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