Manship studies how women use Internet for pregnancy information

Access to technology has changed everything in our modern world. Where students once had to visit a library to get critical information, they can now simply log in from their computers. Professionals can network from mobile devices, and medical advice is traded freely on a variety of websites. But when a team of researchers conducted a study determining how expectant women used the Internet for information about their pregnancies, they were in for a surprise.

Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award logo Nicole Dahmen, Felicia Song and Lisa Lundy, all faculty in the Manship School of Mass Communication, recently had research about how pregnant women use the Internet for information published in Gender & Society.
Eddy Perez/University Relaitons

"Most people think of technology as something that's empowering. From a feminist perspective, there's a lot of research and literature supporting that concept," said Felicia Song, lead author and Huie Dellmon Assistant Professor in the Manship School of Mass Communication. "It seems like women would use the Internet to seek out alternative information not typically provided by their physicians, such as doulas."

However, this hypothesis didn't turn out to be true. In fact, their study, "Women, Pregnancy, and Health Information Online: The Making of Informed Patients and Ideal Mothers," published in the prestigious sociological journal Gender & Society, showed that most women using the Internet to find information about their pregnancies do not seek alternative information – instead, they actually looked for information to confirm that their pregnancies were progressing normally and to confirm what they were told by physicians.

"Some go online because they're dissatisfied with their doctor, but mostly they do so because they want to be good mothers," said Song.

For these women, being a good mother meant being informed about what their body was going through, anticipating changes and being an informed patient.

"This is a very classed phenomenon," said Song. "In order to access this kind of information, it assumes a lot of literacy issues and access to technology that many don't have."

The study found that middle class women who are pregnant tend to have a sense of urgency and control over their pregnancies that working class women don't tend to have. Going online is a way to execute that feeling of control for them.

"The Internet doesn't necessarily empower people, but it in some ways reinforces cultural expectations that already exist," said Song.  "Because the information is out there, they feel obligated to know it and absorb it."

Other authors of the study include Jennifer Ellis West, an LSU alumna now part of the faculty at Mississippi College; Lisa Lundy, associate professor of public relations; and Nicole Dahmen, assistant professor of visual communication.

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