In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Recent research suggests that expressing breast milk may be an increasingly common practice during early infant feeding, yet relatively little is known about the reasons for this practice.1 Moreover, there is little explicit analysis of early milk expression in the feminist infant feeding literature. That which does exist suggests contradictory theorization. It has been suggested that expressing represents a type of regulation, in that it imposes an external form of control upon breastfeeding. Thus, milk expression offers a way of managing future expectations about returning to work or normal life and activities while continuing to breastfeed. In addition, the use of breast pumps has been theorized as contributing to the commercialization, medicalization, and mechanization of breastfeeding and a focus on milk as a product rather than breastfeeding as a process.2 On the other hand, expressing has the potential to be empowering, in that it allows for greater paternal involvement in infant feeding and increased freedom for women.3 Our recent analysis of experiences of expressing milk with a group of first-time British mothers suggested that the women accounted for the practice of expressing in ways that, in feminist terms, could be seen as potentially both empowering and disempowering.4 In this chapter we analyze three case studies from our research and argue that, because of its potential to empower new mothers in contemporary Western contexts, the practice of expressing might sometimes be considered as a way to promote the continuation of lactation and breastfeeding by enabling women to navigate some of the perceived barriers to breastfeeding. However, this should not negate critical feminist engagement with factors that constrain breastfeeding. Empowerment or Regulation? Women’s Perspectives on Expressing Milk Chapter 15 180 Sally Johnson, Dawn Leeming, Steven Lyttle, and Iain Williamson Negotiating Early Infant Feeding: Expressing Stories We present case studies of three women who have expressed milk extensively, based on data from audio diaries and interviews.5 Samantha’s Story Samantha was nineteen and lived with her grandmother, as did her new partner, who was not the father of her child. Samantha was living on an income of less than ten thousand pounds per year.6 Samantha initially reported that breastfeeding was “quite painful” and that she was “starting to feel really sore.” By the third day she was exclusively pumping and feeding breast milk via a bottle. Samantha gave pain management as her primary reason for expressing milk. In a previous analysis we argued that expressing is a practice that can be deployed when experiencing difficulties to ensure the baby still receives human milk.7 As Samantha put it, “I’m happy to do it like this for now, she’s still getting all the nutrients that she needs from the breast milk . . . and it’s a lot less painful expressing the milk than latching her on.” This statement implies that, for Samantha, the practice of pumping to manage pain enabled her to fulfill her “moral duty” and position herself as a “good mother” who, as the sociologist Elizabeth Murphy argues, ensures that health outcomes are maximized for the baby.8 She also reported that “it feels like I’m restricted because . . . I don’t feel comfortable feeding in front of people.” She repeatedly said that expressing and using a bottle made it easier to feed if she went out, saying that she “would have preferred to have expressed it rather than breastfeed in public because I know there is quite a lot of stigma about it in some places.” Analysis of concerns about public breastfeeding in the feminist literature has been mainly associated with the sexualization of the breast in Western societies. The feminist sociologist Cindy Stearns links this anxiety to current constructions of the “good maternal body,” which requires the careful management of breastfeeding in specific ways in front of others so that the nurturing rather than the sexual breast is evident.9 Here Samantha avoids transgressing this precarious boundary by removing her breast from the act of breastfeeding. Samantha mentioned that another advantage of pumping milk was that it enabled others to feed her baby, and that it gave her the freedom to do other things. She spoke about wanting to enroll in an educational course and implied that expressing would be a way of managing this activity. Expressing was therefore constructed as a way of having a break from the demands of motherhood and resuming other tasks and activities. Her rationale resonates Empowerment or Regulation? 181 with nursing scholars...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.