Table of Contents
Breastfeeding: Stigma and Policy Intervention
Stigma surrounding breastfeeding
Proper feeding and nutrition begin during the childhood years of which a child is breastfed, but with the societal changes, there have been concerns raised around the practice. To some, breastfeeding is considered an important aspect of the baby’s development but others view other options like bottle feeding as the normal ways of feeding the baby (Rollins et al., 2013). However, empirical and epidemiological studies have currently confirmed that breastfeeding has numerous health benefits to the baby while failure to breastfeed has long-term health consequences.
The stigma surrounding breastfeeding has evoked research attention and exploration of different reasons as to why women are not comfortable to breastfeed. Especially, there is a negative attitude towards breastfeeding in the public which deters women from providing their children maximum time and an extended period of breastfeeding (Binns et al., 2016; Salone et al., 2013). In some studies explored on college students, pictures of women breastfeeding in public were compared with those feeding their infants in private. From this observation, Bock et al. (2017) provided a group of students with the opportunity to evaluate the pictures and give negative feelings, positive evaluation as well as their thoughts on the normalcy of the activities that they were shown. From the findings, the reports indicated that some of the negative attitudes or stigma surrounding breastfeeding stem from such reasons as to sexist attitudes, unfamiliarity with breastfeeding as well as the hypersexual perception that society has towards breasts (Bock et al., 2017). The negative attitudes perceive that breastfeeding should be done in public, but it has serious implications on child health since it denies the child proper nutrition from the breast milk.
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The stigma surrounding breastfeeding is further aggravated by the fact that as the society continues to view or regard the practice as out of place, they have become internalised into the cultural taboos especially for young mothers (Chong, 2015). Studies exploring some stigma surrounding breastfeeding and its effect on child health have revealed that through stigma, women are more embarrassed and have developed personal objections towards breastfeeding, especially in public (Gibbs and Forste, 2014). In this sense, the stigma has resulted in serious self-objection of which women have more personal reasons of not breastfeeding their children because of the inherent stigmas that currently surround the practice.
Despite the health benefits of breastfeeding, there are dangerous stigmas that prevent new mothers from breastfeeding their children in public. Now, bottle feeding is perceived as the standard and the acceptable ways of breast feeding. In the UK and USA, reports have indicated that within the first years, immigrants are more willing to breastfeed but through acculturation, the rates of breast feeding reduce (Nayar et al., 2014). The current reduction in the rates of breastfeeding confirm the severe stigma on breastfeeding as new mothers accept other methods, and milk substitutes to breast feed their children (Bock et al., 2017). Stigma surrounding breastfeeding has been brought about many misconceptions about the practice, especially some believing that the breast milk may be insufficient for feeding the baby, breast pains that occur after feeding and that infants are not feeding well through the breast.
Effects of stigma on breastfeeding
Stigma surrounding breastfeeding has serious health implications on childcare. Through breastfeeding, the government can save money on the health issues and problems that result because the child has not been breastfeeding (Moss and Yeaton, W.H., 2014). However, with the current negative attitude and stigma surrounding breastfeeding, it means or implies that the government will have to spend more on childcare because of the increased instances of chronic diseases among children. In light of the documented benefits of breastfeeding, the effects of not providing children with breast milk have also been identified. Although results have been inconclusive, studies have indicated the direct connection between infant feeding and asthma. In one of the meta-analysis explorations, Stuebe (2009) revealed that there is a positive relationship between breast feeding and history of asthma, especially for children who have been breast fed for more than three months. In retrospect, studies have confirmed that Atopic Dermatitis is common among children who have not been breast fed, with Victora et al.(2009) establishing the relationship through a randomized trial for both control population and children who had breastfeeding support with the confirmation that lack of breastfeeding increases atopic dermatitis risk by 1.9 times. Hence, with the rising disease incidences, the government will spend more on childcare.
Breastfeeding has also been linked with childhood cancers of which Rollins et al. (2016) examined the relationship through a meta-analysis study to confirm the relationship between the failure to breastfeed the child and leukemia. The findings indicated that the breast milk formula presents viral infections that are linked to leukemia pathogenesis. Conversely, epidemiological studies have shown pieces of evidence linking breastfeeding and Type 1 diabetes. Moreover, Victora et al. (2009) confirmed that lack of breastfeeding increases the child’s risk to Type 1 diabetes by comparing the breast milk formula with that a cow’s milk. Therefore, the evidence confirms that lack of breastfeeding for children during their early years increases their risks to major diseases and health complications that affect them up to adulthood but all affect the expenditure on childcare as the government has to spend more on health.
The best policy advice should be to have employers to establish or develop policies that require them to allow lactating mothers enough break to breast feed their children. It should be mandatory for all employers to provide one year of a break for the mothers to have sufficient time for breastfeeding (West et al., 2017). Besides, there should be a law that obligates employers to provide private places for breastfeeding and not to subject mothers to using bathrooms. Any policy recommendation should be implemented in a manner that it reduces or addresses the negative image or stigma surrounding breastfeeding (Tomori et al., 2016). Education and awareness are equally necessary, especially educating the public as well as companies or organizations having guidelines that document the necessity for breastfeeding as well as the benefits of breastfeeding. The government should also compel both the public and private organisations to enact policies for promoting breastfeeding through educational programs (Grawey et al., 2013). In essence, approaches like staff training, family education, health professional outreach as well as community partnerships should be included in such policies. As of currently, the government has moved swiftly in response to supporting and promoting breastfeeding in public. One of the major areas of policy formulation is enacting a law that has made breastfeeding in public legal. However, policies should also be targeted towards breastfeeding in public, especially making sure that negative comments are treated as an offence, and a policy that allows for the apprehension of the individuals is a necessity.
In summary, the above exploration shows that breastfeeding should be encouraged since it presents more health benefits and prevents serious health complications in later life that also increases expenditure on childcare. In this case, the government should promote and support policies and incentives that ensure that employers are compelled to provide enough break for mothers to breastfeed their children while a law should be enacted to make negative comments on mother’s breastfeeding in public a crime.
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- Stuebe A. 2009. The risks of not breastfeeding for mothers and infants. Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2(4), pp. 222-231.
- Tomori, C., Palmquist, A.E. and Dowling, S., 2016. Contested moral landscapes: Negotiating breastfeeding stigma in breast milk sharing, night-time breastfeeding, and long-term breastfeeding in the US and the UK. Social Science & Medicine, 168, pp.178-185.
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