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Using liminality to understand mothers' experiences of long-term breastfeeding: 'Betwixt and between' and 'matter out of place'.

Dowling, Sally


Sally Dowling
Occasional Associate Lecturer - HAS - AHP


This paper will consider the issue of long-term breastfeeding, using liminality to think about the experiences of a group of women who breastfeed beyond what is currently considered ‘normal’ in the UK. It draws on a qualitative study using micro-ethnographic methods, in which participant observation, face-to-face and online interviews were used to explore women’s experiences of long-term breastfeeding. Overall research findings will be discussed as well as considering how useful liminality is as a concept with which to understand them. Previous work has used liminality to think about breastfeeding; here this is drawn on and developed to further understanding of the experiences of long-term breastfeeding. The use of stigma and taboo to understand the experience is also referred to.

The overall picture emerging from this work is of a group of strong-willed, determined women with a clear sense of purpose of ‘doing the right thing’ in continuing to breastfeed. Most talked about ‘always knowing’ that they would breastfeed, feeling that there was no choice about whether it was the right thing to do because it is ‘natural’. Some women breastfed long-term with support from friends/family; for others it was a very isolating experience which set them apart from their peers and from usual sources of support. Many sought alternative support and become involved with networks in a sub-culture of like-minded people; often this was specifically related to breastfeeding but was also connected to other choices such as home-educating or attachment parenting.


Dowling, S. (2014, July). Using liminality to understand mothers' experiences of long-term breastfeeding: 'Betwixt and between' and 'matter out of place'

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Start Date Jul 24, 2014
End Date Jul 24, 2014
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords long-term breastfeeding, liminality, mothers' experiences
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : British Sociological Association Human Reproduction Study Group Annual Conference


Sally Dowling presentation for BSA Human Reproduction day.pptx (81 Kb)

Sally%20Dowling%20presentation%20for%20BSA%20Human%20Reproduction%20day.pdf (215 Kb)

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