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The emotional resonances of breastfeeding in public: the role of strangers in breastfeeding practice

Boyer, Kate ORCID: 2018. The emotional resonances of breastfeeding in public: the role of strangers in breastfeeding practice. Emotion, Space and Society 26 , pp. 33-40. 10.1016/j.emospa.2016.09.002

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This papers considers some of the disparate emotional and affective resonances that breastfeeding can produce. Breastfeeding is the iconic symbol of succour and comfort-giving. It is associated with better health for babies as well as lower rates of post-natal depression for mothers (as well as other health benefits). Yet it can also be a source of both physical and psychic discomfort, with the variance in the emotional resonance breastfeeding produces being bound up with where it takes place and the ‘sense’ of whether or not breastfeeding is welcome in that locale. In this paper I begin by putting the UK’s very low rates of breastfeeding beyond the first weeks post-birth in an international context, then trace in broad outline the spatial variability in breastfeeding rates across the UK. I then consider women’s experiences breastfeeding in public through a combination of interviews, survey-work, participant observation, and 770 posts to the UK parenting website mumsnet. I take conceptual work forward by highlighting the role of strangers within breastfeeding assemblages to shape mothers’ experiences and feelings about breastfeeding practice. Drawing on concepts of affective atmospheres (Anderson 2009), public comfort (Ahmed 2004 & 2010), and secret-keeping (Deleuze and Guattari 1998), I argue that women’s (often negative) affective experiences breastfeeding in public is a contributing factor in why breastfeeding rates in the UK are so low. Finally, I highlight some of the social and material changes that would be needed to make public space in the UK more breastfeeding-friendly.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Geography and Planning (GEOPL)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 1755-4586
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 22 September 2016
Date of Acceptance: 7 September 2016
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2023 23:38

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