Public Attitudes Toward Breastfeeding: Media Coverage and Public Opinion Karen M. Kedrowski, Ph.D. Department of Political Science, Winthrop University Prepared for annual conference of La Leche League, South Carolina April 29, 2006
What are Public Attitudes? • Hostile? • Advocates perceive hostility. • BF mothers’ anecdotes. • Supportive? • Considerable and growing evidence of health benefits. • Public health goal to increase BF rates and duration • Widespread social movement (LLL and others)
Two measures of Public Attitudes • Study of media coverage, 1990-2004 • Approximately 220 stories (very little) • Three TV networks • Four newspapers • Eleven women’s magazines • Public Opinion Survey • Fall 2004 • 461 residents of Rock Hill, SC area
Media Coverage by Medium • Newspapers: 69% • Women’s Magazines: 21.1% • Almost all coverage in Parenting and Baby Talk. Some in Working Mother. • Almost none in mainstream women’s magazines (GH, Better Homes, Redbook), feminist magazine (Ms) or African American women’s magazines (Ebony, Jet, Essence). • Television: 9.3%
Mixed Message 1: BF Good? • “Miracle Milk” Stories: 37% • health benefits to babies and moms • related scientific discoveries • infants cured of illnesses • rising BF rates. • “Sick Baby” Stories: 36% • BF “mishaps” • Transfers viruses, toxins or pollutants (AIDS, dioxin, medications)
Mixed Message #2: Public BF • Stories that support breastfeeding in public: 10% • Stories focusing on problems with public breastfeeding • 3% against, presented negatively. • 9.6% problems with public breastfeeding, such as harassment or employment discrimination.
Separating Milk from the Breast • Story Sources: • Dominance of medical doctors and scientists in newspapers and TV coverage. • Women’s stories present only in women’s magazines. • Result: much discussion about the benefits of breast milk but little discussion of how the milk is delivered.
Importance • Most policy makers do not read parenting magazines • Women’s experience and expertise not part of the media coverage they consume. • Picture of breastfeeding that they receive is mixed: • Beneficial and dangerous • Acceptable and offensive • Milk but no breast • Helps explain the conflicting public policies
PUBLIC OPINION • Survey was designed to gauge attitudes toward witnessing public breastfeeding. • Asked to respond to particular scenarios, such as seeing a mother breastfeed in a restaurant, and about bf rights. • Deliberately included difficult scenarios. • Respondents: less representative of Rock Hill or South Carolina, but similar to US as a whole.
Breastfeeding is Uncommon • 76% of respondents indicated they have children. • 47% indicated their child/children were breastfed. • African-American and white respondents reported similar rates of breastfeeding. • Initiation and duration of BF correlated with education.
LITTLE AGREEMENT • Do women have a right to breastfeed? • 40% “agree” or “strongly agree.” • Offended to witness bf in public? • Covered by blanket: 11% “offended” or “highly offended” • Mother’s abdomen showing: 35% “offended” or “highly offended” • Nipple or breast showing: 69% “offended” or “highly offended” • Toddler nursing: 64% “offended” or “highly offended”
Accommodating Working Moms • Allow extra break time to pump or nurse: 67% agree or strongly agree/ 24% disagree or strongly disagree • Employer required to provide a clean, private place to pump or nurse: 60%/28% • Employer required to provide a refrigerator for milk storage: 49%/39%
Variations in Opinion • Women • more likely to be offended by seeing body parts exposed; • More likely to be offended by seeing a nursing toddler. • African Americans • More likely to support break time for bf moms in the workplace; and • Less likely to support requiring employers to provide a refrigerator. • Experience matters: Respondents whose children were breastfed were • More supportive of public breastfeeding; • More supportive of employment accommodations; and • More likely to support a “right to breastfeed.”
Importance • People unaware of the realities of breastfeeding. • Difficult maintaining modesty • AAP recommendations (as long as “mutually desired) • Unaware of biological realities of breastfeeding • Men are not necessarily the source of opposition. Women not necessarily allies. • Contradictory attitudes help explain contradictory public policies.