Blurring the boundaries: breastfeeding and maternal subjectivity

Virginia Schmied, Deborah Lupton

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    159 Citations (Scopus)


    Contemporary medical and public health discourses represent breastfeeding as vital to infant development and the mother'infant bond. Little research from a medical or sociological perspective has sought to investigate the qualitative breastfeeding experiences of women. This article draws on a range of feminist perspectives on the body and subjectivity, together with empirical data from a series of interviews with 25 Australian first'time mothers, to theorise the experience of breastfeeding. These women's accounts revealed that, although nearly all of them subscribed vehemently to the dominant discourse of 'breast is best', the experience of breastfeeding differed markedly among them. Some of the women experienced breastfeeding as a connected, harmonious and intimate relationship between themselves and their baby. For others, however, the breastfeeding relationship between mother and infant was difficult to reconcile with notions of identity that value autonomy, independence and control. We use insights from feminist philosophy on subjectivity and embodiment to explain why the latter response predominated among our interviewees.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)234-250
    Number of pages17
    JournalSociology of Health and Illness
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2001


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