Breastfeeding tends to improve baby and maternal health, and most health agencies recommend that when biologically possible, women should breastfeed infants exclusively for the first six months.
Despite the positive health benefits, only a small number of women actually breastfeed. One reason is the fear that the mother will face ridicule and discrimination in the workplace.
A new study sought to investigate this perception and determine if the barrier to breastfeeding is a valid concern in the 21st century.
Remarkably, researchers discovered the persistence of negative perceptions, as people may not want to work with breastfeeding moms and view them as being less competent than other women.
The study showing that discrimination continues in the workplace is found in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Researchers conducted three studies to determine the views of others towards breastfeeding moms.
Participants were asked to give their opinion on how they view breastfeeding moms in terms of overall competence, math competence and likelihood that they would hire a breastfeeding mom as opposed to other groups, such as women, and moms in general.
In all three studies, the results showed the breastfeeding woman was rated significantly less competent in general, in math and work specifically, and was less likely to be hired compared to others.
“What’s surprising is that the results from the study showed that the breastfeeding mother was excluded from a potential job opportunity, even though none of the women were visibly breastfeeding” says lead author Jessi L. Smith.
“We can only speculate that the evidence for bias would be even greater if people were to rate an actual woman engaging in public nursing.”
A surprising finding was that other women were as biased against breastfeeding women as men.
“Breastfeeding is healthy and cheap, but relatively few women do it,” wrote the researchers. “A woman may not breastfeed because of worry over how she will be evaluated by other people. Data from the current project suggest that this worry may be warranted, to the extent that breastfeeding is a devalued social category.”
Researchers hope publication and discussion of the bias faced by breastfeeding women will change public opinion. Social change is necessary to foster increased breastfeeding rates.
“The result of more mothers who breastfeed is the force for social change; more visible breastfeeding mothers should prompt people to wrestle with and debate the issues. With time, greater numbers of women who breastfeed translates to less prejudice,” the researchers wrote.
Source: SAGE Publications