Friday, July 6, 2012

Television's Portrayal of Breastfeeding

I stumbled upon an interesting story today based upon a recent study that was published in the journal Health Communication titled, "That's Not a Beer Bong, It's a Breast Pump!" Representations of Breastfeeding in Prime-Time Fictional Television."  The author of the study recognizes that "although most people are aware of the benefits, many women do not breastfeed their babies past the first few months. These low rates can be partially explained by negative cultural attitudes toward breastfeeding, which have been reinforced by media messages."

The author found that "breastfeeding depictions are generally positive, but limited in scope to educated, older, Caucasian women breastfeeding newborns, with little discussion about how to overcome problems. Extended breastfeeding and nursing in public were conveyed as socially unacceptable, making other characters uncomfortable, often within the same storylines that sexualized breasts. While the frequency of representations in recent years was encouraging, the narrow definition of the "normal" nursing experience excluded many types of women and breastfeeding experiences. And, by failing to address breastfeeding challenges and conveying that extended breastfeeding or nursing in public is abnormal or obscene, these depictions reinforce myths about the ease of breastfeeding and may discourage women from breastfeeding past the newborn phase, and outside the privacy of their homes. These portrayals may help explain why breastfeeding has not been "normalized," despite an international consensus that it is the best health choice for babies."

I would have to agree with the author of this study.  Before I became I mother, I had no idea the challenges that face breastfeeding mothers.  I didn't know about the commitment and sacrifice that it takes to exclusively breastfeed a child for the first six months of their life and to continue to at least a year as recommended by guidelines.  Most of the general public's "experience" with breastfeeding is through television.  In television, you never see a baby past a few months old breastfeeding.  As a result, many people feel uncomfortable seeing older children breastfeed.  I have been told that I need to "stop" breastfeeding my child because he was too "old" (even though he was not even a year old).

If television shows do not begin to more accurately portray breastfeeding, people are going to continue believing the stereotypes that they see.  I have a co-worker who is originally from Africa and he cannot understand the "hang up" Americans have about breastfeeding.  It is a natural thing and it is what is best for babies.  Unfortunately, since many Americans are driven by what they see on television, producers of shows need to change the way in which breastfeeding is portrayed for it to become more "acceptable" to the "mainstream."

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