Breastfeeding and the social control of women

Dyball, Celia (1993). Breastfeeding and the social control of women. PhD thesis The Open University.



Breastfeeding remains problematic in our society despite its being a 'natural' physiological process, its official encouragement as the healthiest way to feed babies and its revival in popularity amongst mothers over the last thirty years. Many mothers give up early and turn to bottle-feeding, and a substantial minority choose not to breastfeed at all. The aim of this research was to study mothers' feeding experiences in the context of the culture and organisation of western industrialised society. The small sample from a single area, whilst not claiming to be rigorously representative, was drawn nevertheless from a community which was very much the product of western industrialised society.

Three in-depth interviews were conducted with 47 mothers having their first babies. The first interview was less than a month before the birth, the second about a month after, and the third at about five months. Most wanted to breastfeed, but found it a struggle against doubts and difficulties stemming from lack of knowledge, conflicting ideas and cultural embarrassment. Even those who continued breastfeeding were dependent on bottle-feeding to overcome problems.

Health education on the benefits of breastfeeding and coherent advice based on 'demand feeding' will not solve problems stemming from cultural embarrassment and incompatibility with other culturally defined duties and social activities, but setting an unattainable 'natural ideal' could contribute to women's feelings of guilt or failure when they compromise with bottle-feeding, or choose not to breastfeed at all.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions