Article

The Politics of Breastfeeding: Assessing Risk, Dividing Labor

Signs 01/2000; 25(2). DOI: 10.1086/495446
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    ABSTRACT: Based on studies showing health advantages for breastfeeding mothers and their infants, pediatricians and other breastfeeding advocates encourage new mothers to breastfeed their babies for at least the first six months of their infants’ lives, arguing that breast milk is best for infants, families, and society, and it is cost free. Few empirical studies, however, document how the decision to breastfeed instead of formula-feed is associated with women’s post-birth earnings. This is an important omission, given that the majority of women today work for pay, and many work in job environments incompatible with breastfeeding. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, our results show that mothers who breastfeed for six months or longer suffer more severe and more prolonged earnings losses than do mothers who breastfeed for shorter durations or not at all. The larger post-birth drop in earnings for long-duration breastfeeders is due to a larger reduction in labor supply. We discuss the implications of these findings for gender equality at home and at work.
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    ABSTRACT: The ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ of feeding babies is a key interest in the arena of public health. In recent years, this has translated into an ever-increasing emphasis on breastfeeding; namely, on trying to get more mothers to breastfeed, to breastfeed exclusively, and to breastfeed for longer. It is argued, however, that this discourse is not a benign communiqué about the relative benefits of breastfeeding, but an ideologically infused, moral discourse about what it means to be a ‘good mother’ in an advanced capitalist society. With the dual aim of (a) building upon existing cultural analyses of infant feeding, and (b) furthering our understanding of the construction of' ‘good mothering’ in risk society, this paper examines how notions of risk/benefit are taken up and used in mothers' talk about their infant feeding decisions and experiences. The findings detailed in this paper support the thesis that the authority to define and monitor ‘risk’ in parenting is increasingly the purview of medical-scientific discourse. The analysis further demonstrates how, within such a framework, mothers' risk consciousness vis-a-vis infant feeding is activated primarily as an issue of identity, of ‘good mothering’ as defined by the dominant, expert-guided, scientific-medical discourse.
    Health Risk & Society - HEALTH RISK SOC. 01/2010; 12(4):345-355.
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    ABSTRACT: This article examines the emergence and development of breastfeeding as an international concern, focusing on its basis of legitimization and what discourse it (re)produces regarding breastfeeding and gender relations. Using official documents, such as conventions and declarations from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) that are often prepared in cooperation with the UNICEF, the article seeks to answer how policies are legitimized and how gender is construed. The study shows that discourse develops towards stressing medical arguments and individual behavior. This development is crucial for the construction of breastfeeding as a universal practice. Further, the idea of protection of mothers/women is found to be a key to understanding the discourse. An important feature of the article is how breastfeeding policies facilitate constructions of hierarchy among nations framed in terms of the ability to protect women and children.
    Womens Studies International Forum - WOMEN STUD INT FORUM. 01/2009; 32(3):240-248.