Class, Breastfeeding and Parenting Practices: Social Drivers of Childhood Development

Here is another study which supports the position that we are not just automatons of nucleic acid, proteins and chemicals but instead are part of a complex social system, which ultimately has a large effect on our behaviours, capacities and perceptions. Being breastfed has been linked to higher IQ and better school performance; however, scientists have as yet been unable to discover any biologically deterministic reasons as to why. But now through analysing a data set that followed 7,500 mothers and their children from birth to five years of age sociologists at Brigham Young University uncovered social patterns (as good sociologists are wont to do) surrounding mothers who breastfed and those who didn’t. The practice of breastfeeding tended to be accompanied by a series of parental behaviours: breastfeeding mothers were more responsive to their children’s emotional cues. They were also more likely to read to their children at an earlier age. Reading to an infant everyday from an age as early as 9 months, along with the sensitivity to a child’s social interactions are “significant predictors of reading readiness at age 4 years”.

Whether these parental practices were being applied or not turned out to be influenced by class, that great social divider. Being a single mother in the labour force means less quality time and room for child-parent interactions and being part of a less privileged social class, with less education (and I would argue more socially distant from the world of research-based expertise) means these parents are often excluded from the latest parental findings and advice.

The study should not be read as an indictment of single mothers either but should open the way towards looking at proper child welfare provisions for working parents, and a greater need for parental support networks for lower economic groups. As one of the sociologists involved, Professor Renata Forste stated:

 “This is the luxury of the advantaged…It makes it harder to think about how we promote environments for disadvantaged homes. These things can be learned and they really matter. And being sensitive to kids and reading to kids doesn’t have to be done just by the mother.”

In the future I intend to post more on sociology research findings so as to highlight the role of society in how humans respond to the world. With the hierarchy of social science disciplines favouring the more individualizing approaches of economics and psychology I fear the vital component of social structure is in danger of being obliterated from matters of policy and public debate. The more we reduce the world to biological, economical and other asocial explanations the more we reduce humanity’s options for bringing about real social change and the capacity of the oppressed to recognise where their oppression comes from.


One thought on “Class, Breastfeeding and Parenting Practices: Social Drivers of Childhood Development

  1. Pingback: Another Head Start for the Privileged | Myths of Our Time

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