July 31, 2018

Food for thought: Nursing moms should be celebrated, not shunned, says women’s health expert at Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The viral story of two breast-feeding moms booted from a public swimming pool in Minnesota has laid bare an uncomfortable reality: Nursing mothers often are shunned, rather than celebrated, said a women’s health expert at Purdue University.

Andrea DeMaria, an assistant professor in consumer science, studies how cultural and societal pressures shape women’s choices around their health. Mothers who see other women chastised for breast-feeding in public, for example, could question the importance of the practice themselves, said DeMaria, an expert in public health focusing on women’s reproductive and maternal issues.

“The social norms around this behavior need to change so women can feel empowered to nurture their child in a way that they choose,” she said. “Breasts are so sexualized in the United States compared to other countries.”

Breast-feeding, especially in the first six months of a child’s life, is crucial to the health and development of young children, according to the World Health Organization website. Yet the practice of nursing in public is often punished in the U.S., creating a confusing double standard, DeMaria said.

“There are many mixed messages,” she said. “Mothers are taught the importance of breast-feeding for child development, yet they’re often shamed when they do it in public.”

This year, Idaho and Utah became the last states to legalize nursing in public, USA Today reported July 25. Yet mothers nationwide often are asked to breastfeed in private, sometimes in bathrooms in restaurants, grocery stores and other public places, DeMaria said. Lactation rooms, for example, are required in many workplaces under the Affordable Care Act.

“As part of the ACA, workplaces are required to implement lactation rooms so that women can have their privacy, especially if they don’t have private offices,” she said. “Many people say breast-feeding women should feed their babies in the bathroom. Would you eat your dinner in the bathroom?”

DeMaria is also available to discuss:

  • Complications of pubic hair removal.
  • Empowerment during pregnancy, labor and delivery.
  • Other topics related to women’s health. 

Writer: Joseph Paul, 765-494-9541, paul102@purdue.edu 

Source: Andrea DeMaria, 765-494-8300, ademaria@purdue.edu

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