“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,” she said.
“Also, don’t touch a woman’s bump unless she has given you permission.”
Grant issued the advice after a small study revealed “community surveillance” of pregnant women and baby feeding had significantly increased.
In the study, published in ‘Families Relationships and Society’, researchers interviewed mother-grandmother pairs and found the public judging of women had increased between generations.
The six mother-grandmother pairs were from deprived urban areas of South Wales. These areas were selected because of low rates of breastfeeding and high rates of public health intervention.
The mothers’ youngest children were aged between six weeks and 25 months. The mothers themselves were aged between 22 and 43 years, and the grandmothers between 42 and 74 years.
Many of the new mothers reported feeling watched, evaluated and judged, and some reported experiences of being questioned by strangers about their choices during pregnancy and when feeding their babies.
Participants also reported a range of pressures to feed their babies in particular ways, including a general desire to breastfeed, as opposed to using infant formula, and information from midwives resulting in a view that “breast is best”.
The new mothers felt the most challenging form of surveillance was from strangers, as they were less able to control it.
One recounted a visit to a café where the waiter acted “like the food police” refusing to serve the afternoon tea she had ordered because of her “big belly”, showing that she was pregnant.
During her interview, this mother said she felt as though she, or at least her bump, was “everyone’s property”.
Update: This article originally referred to Aimee Grant as a doctor. This has been corrected to researcher.
One of the mothers shared comments from her family members about the frequency of her baby’s feeds and admitted it made her question her ability to feed her baby properly.
Another recounted that a relative had told her she couldn’t drink alcohol on a night out because she was breastfeeding. She felt this intervention was “intrusive and rude”, as she had already spoken to her health visitor regarding how she could safely feed her baby with breastmilk and drink alcohol.
Dr Grant, who led the research, 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.
“If a mum has any medical concerns, as always, she should contact her midwife, health visitor or GP.”
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