Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Breasts, Bags, Clothes and Shoes: Constructing Motherhood and Images of Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding Women

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Breasts, Bags, Clothes and Shoes: Constructing Motherhood and Images of Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding Women

Article excerpt

Abstract

Breastfeding does not only take place in women's bodies but it helps construct the notion of 'good' and 'bad' mothers (Kukla, 2006a). According to Kukla, our idea of the maternal body (including breastfeeding) is contextualised by the surrounding discourses which dominate and constrain our definition and the meaning of maternality. Discourses around infant feeding also tend to repackage our definition of what motherhood is, and certain expectations that it brings. This paper discusses the construction of motherhood and images of "good" vs. "bad" mothers through collages. It explores women's negotiations with the types of bodies and values attached to both infant feeding choices. This data is generated through women's responses in focus groups and having them constructing collages of breast and formula feeding mothers. Through these processes, women discussed values associated with the types of women who would breast or formula feed, as well as other moral issues associated with motherhood.

Keywords: Breastfeeding, Creative visual methods, Motherhood

1. Introduction

This paper discusses ideas surrounding 'types' of women who would breast or formula feed. It explores women's negotiations with types of bodies and values attached to motherhood. This is generated through women's construction of collages; both breast and formula feeding mothers. Through these collages, women discuss values associated with the types of women who would breast or formula feed, their identities, as well as other moral issues associated with motherhood.

2. The conceptions of motherhood

Breastfeeding does not only take place in women's bodies, but it helps construct the notion of 'good' and 'bad' mothers (Kukla 2006a). According to Kukla, our idea of the maternal body (including breastfeeding) is contextualised by the surrounding discourses which dominate and constrain our definition and the meaning of maternality. Discourses around infant feeding also tend to repackage our definition of what motherhood is, and certain expectations that it brings. These expectations include responsibilities towards children's health and upbringing; a duty that has now been conferred a civic value as much as its' domestic significance (Kukla 2006b p.164). The context of infant feeding choice is no longer seen as one's rights, but a moralised and constrained one that tends to label individuals' moral state as either 'good' or 'bad' mothers.

Elizabeth Murphy in 2000 wrote about risk discourses of infant feeding and explains how such discourses help construct moral aspects of motherhood. In her research she found out that mothers tend to blame others (including their own babies) and external circumstances for their failure to breastfeed. This is because of the pressures put upon them to become, and to be seen as 'a good mother'. Murphy suggests that the way mothers talk about their decision to formula feed "endorsed the ideology of motherhood, resisting any interpretation of their feeding practices that suggest that they had failed to live up to this ideology" (Murphy, 2000 p.319).

For example, a study by Mabilia (2005) explores how breastfeeding practices are defined through specific cultural beliefs that shape social interpretations of motherhood. Mabilia explained that the Gogo community in Tanzania forbids lactating mothers from having sexual intercourse during the course of breastfeeding. This is because the society believes that having sexual intercourse will affect mothers' milk, causing their babies to be ill. Interestingly, because of this belief, mothers who have ill babies are deemed as "bad mothers" because they are thought to prioritise sex over the health of their own babies (p.67). This is an interesting process in which cultural beliefs and taboos related to breastfeeding affect the social definition of "good" and "bad" mothers.

Maclean (1990) also suggests that breastfeeding serves as society's measure stick for defining a good or bad mother (p. …

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