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  1. ITV Report

Pregnant women under 'more scrutiny' than previous generations'

Photo: Katie Collins/PA Wire/PA Images

Pregnant women and new mothers face more scrutiny and judgment than previous generations, a study suggests.

Researchers from Cardiff University interviewed mother and grandmother pairs and found that community surveillance of pregnant women and infant feeding had significantly increased between the generations.

Many of the mothers reported feeling watched and evaluated by family, friends and strangers and some spoke of being questioned by strangers about their choices during pregnancy and when feeding their babies.

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.

– Dr Aimee Grant, Cardiff University

Participants in the small study said that when they were feeding infants in public, or in the presence of family members, they were aware of a need to show as little of themselves as possible as breasts were seen as sexual objects to be covered at all times.

In contrast, women who were formula feeding spoke about hiding formula packaging while preparing bottles in public.

One expectant mother recounted a visit to a cafe where the waiter acted "like the kinda 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".

All of the new mothers said comments and behaviour from their family could influence their feelings towards infant feeding and felt that the comments were judgments of their capability to look after their children.