Breast is best “until they say so”. An auto-ethnographic account of breastfeeding.

Quinones, Cristina (2023). Breast is best “until they say so”. An auto-ethnographic account of breastfeeding. In: 2023 International Symposium on Autoethnography and Narrative (ISAN), 2-5 Jan 2023, Online.



In this auto-ethnographic account of my breastfeeding journey, I aim to shed some light on the consequences of by being exposed to two competing discourses, “ the self-regulated dyad” and the “externally-regulated” dyad. The former represents our evidence-based understanding and recommended practices supported by the World Health Organisation; breastfeeding on demand and internally regulated by the dyad. The externally regulated discourse refers to the standardized health practices and interventions that take over the self-regulated process when difficulties arise (e.g. weight gain deviations, latching difficulties). Importantly, unlike the glossy breastfeeding promotion and education campaigns suggest, the literature confirms that difficulties are frequent, which in turn legitimizes standardized health interventions. According to Kugelman, standardized health can be counterproductive when it makes us more dependent on the medical powers and diminish our embodied understanding to heal. Drawing on my own data and existing evidence, I argue that this is particularly relevant for breastfeeding, considering its critical “on demand”, dyadic nature, and even more so when standardized health is poorly resourced and/or its staff unqualified. I illustrate these points by showing the impact that contradictory and inconsistent interpretations of pain had on my self esteem and ability to breastfeed, and how the compassionate and qualified support I eventually found through a non-for profit organisation empowered me to validate the pain and trust our dyad. My conclusions are twofold. First, breastfeeding promotion and education ought to acknowledge the broad range of experiences women may have, as it may help women make fairer assessments about their own success and better informed decisions on whether they wish to continue. Second, our public health systems need to invest on the development of maternity healthcare professionals so that they all have the tools to provide qualified, compassionate and consistent support.

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