Breastfeeding Mothers Seen As Less Competent, Study Finds

April 25, 2011

Businesswoman holding a babyWomen who breastfeed should be aware that breastfeeding may lead others to believe that they are less competent and less good at math than women who do not breastfeed, reported The Wall Street Journal.

In a recent study, researchers from Montana State University conducted three experiments to test whether people were biased against breastfeeding mothers. According to MyHealthNewsDaily, participants did not actually meet or see a breastfeeding mother. In one experiment, participants viewed fictional resumes of an applicant who wrote a book describing her experiences breastfeeding. In another experiment, participants were paired with a confederate of the researchers who listened to a voicemail message that was loud enough for their partner to hear. The confederate played a message that either drew attention to the fact that she was a mother, a mother who breastfeeds, a women with sexualized breasts or a neutral condition.

According to the study, results showed that participants rated breastfeeding mothers significantly less competent in general, in math and in the workplace. Furthermore, a breastfeeding mother was less likely to be hired compared to the other conditions, except for the sexualized breast condition. Researchers pointed out that ratings were the same for the breastfeeding mother and the woman with sexualized breasts, suggesting that participants may have viewed breastfeeding women as objects and, therefore, less competent.

"Incompetence comes because, when you think about an object, you don't think of an object as something that's intelligent or smart or thinking," explained Jessi Smith, one of the researchers on the study, to MyHealthNewsDaily.

For the most part, researchers were surprised by the results of the experiments because breastfeeding is known to have benefits for both the mother and baby.

"I would have had the opposite prediction, that breast-feeding would make somebody seem really competent because you're making this really well-informed decision," said Smith.

Despite the results, Smith said mothers should not refrain from breastfeeding. Instead, she noted that health care professionals should advise mothers that they may experience this bias in the workplace.

MyHealthNewsDaily pointed out that the study was conducted in a laboratory setting and all the participants were college students; therefore, more research is needed to determine whether the results are applicabale to the real world.

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff


"Breastfeeding Women Viewed as Incompetent," blogs.wsj.com, April 21, 2011, Christopher Shea

"Mothers Who Breast-Feed Are Viewed as Incompetent," myhealthnewsdaily.com, April 21, 2011, Rachael Rettner

"Spoiled Milk: An Experimental Examination of Bias Against Mothers Who Breastfeed," psp.sagepub.com, March 18, 2011, Jessi L. Smith, Kristin Hawkinson, Kelli Paull

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