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Contested moral landscapes: Negotiating breastfeeding stigma in breastmilk sharing, nighttime breastfeeding, and long-term breastfeeding in the U.S. and the U.K.

Tomori, Cecilia; Palmquist, Aunchalee E. L.; Dowling, Sally

Authors

Cecilia Tomori

Aunchalee E. L. Palmquist

Sally Dowling



Abstract

© 2016 Elsevier Ltd Recent public health breastfeeding promotion efforts have galvanized media debates about breastfeeding in wealthy, Euro-American settings. A growing body of research demonstrates that while breastfeeding is increasingly viewed as important for health, mothers continue to face significant structural and cultural barriers. Concerns have been raised about the moralizing aspects of breastfeeding promotion and its detrimental effects on those who do not breastfeed. Far less, however, is known about the moral experiences of those who pursue breastfeeding. This study draws together research on breastmilk sharing (2012–2016) and nighttime breastfeeding from the U.S. (2006–2009), and long-term breastfeeding from the U.K. (2008–2009) from three ethnographic projects to address this gap. Comparative analysis of these cases reveals that while breastfeeding is considered ideal infant nutrition, aspects of its practice continue to evoke physical and moral danger, even when these practices are implemented to facilitate breastfeeding. Breastmilk sharing to maintain exclusive breastmilk feeding, nighttime breastfeeding and bedsharing to facilitate breastfeeding, and breastfeeding beyond the accepted duration are considered unnecessary, unhealthy, harmful or even deadly. The sexual connotations of breastfeeding enhance the morally threatening qualities of these practices. The cessation of these “problematic” breastfeeding practices and their replacement with formula-feeding or other foods is viewed as a way to restore the normative social and moral order. Mothers manage the stigmatization of these breastfeeding practices through secrecy and avoidance of health professionals and others who might judge them, often leading to social isolation. Our findings highlight the divide between perceptions of the ideal of breastfeeding and its actual practice and point to the contested moral status of breastfeeding in the U.S. and the U.K. Further comparative ethnographic research is needed to illuminate the lived social and moral experiences of breastfeeding, and inform initiatives to normalize and support its practice without stigmatizing parents who do not breastfeed.

Citation

Palmquist, A. E., Tomori, C., Palmquist, A., & Dowling, S. (2016). Contested moral landscapes: Negotiating breastfeeding stigma in breastmilk sharing, nighttime breastfeeding, and long-term breastfeeding in the U.S. and the U.K. Social Science and Medicine, 168, 178-185. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.09.014

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 9, 2016
Online Publication Date Sep 10, 2016
Publication Date Nov 1, 2016
Journal Social Science and Medicine
Print ISSN 0277-9536
Electronic ISSN 1873-5347
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 168
Pages 178-185
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.09.014
Keywords United States, United Kingdom, breastfeeding, stigma, breastmilk sharing, nighttime breastfeeding, bedsharing, long-term breastfeeding
Public URL https://uwe-repository.worktribe.com/output/906838
Publisher URL http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.09.014

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