Pregnant women and new mothers face more scrutiny and judgement than previous generations, a study suggests.
Researchers from Cardiff University interviewed mother and grandmother pairs and found that community surveillance of pregnant women and infant feeding had significantly increased between the generations.
Many of the mothers reported feeling watched and evaluated by family, friends and strangers and some spoke of being questioned by strangers about their choices during pregnancy and when feeding their babies.
Lead researcher Dr Aimee Grant said: “The mothers in our study described how this intrusive policing of lifestyle choices began in pregnancy and then continued to impact on their everyday lives, particularly through infant feeding.”
“This observation and interference by others can result in pregnant women and new mothers performing public motherhood in ways that are highly self-aware and self-conscious, which makes it difficult to follow advice from health professionals.”
Participants in the small study said that when they were feeding infants in public, or in the presence of family members, they were aware of a need to show as little of themselves as possible, as breasts were seen as sexual objects to be covered at all times.
In contrast, women who were formula-feeding spoke about hiding formula packaging while preparing bottles in public.
All of the new mothers said comments and behaviour from their family could influence their feelings towards infant feeding and felt that the comments were judgements of their capability to look after their children.
Based on the study’s findings, Grant said there were ways the public could make it easier for pregnant women and new mums.
She said: “Don’t touch a woman’s bump unless she has given you permission.”
“Also, if you wouldn’t ask someone what they had for lunch, it probably isn’t appropriate for you to ask them questions about feeding their baby.”
The study was published in Families Relationships and Society.Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]