Expressing yourself: A feminist analysis of talk around expressing breast milk

Sally Johnson, Iain Williamson, Steven Lyttle, Dawn Leeming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Recent feminist analyses, particularly from those working within a poststructuralist framework, have highlighted a number of historically located and contradictory socio-cultural constructions and practices which women are faced with when negotiating infant feeding, especially breastfeeding, within contemporary western contexts. However, there has been little explicit analysis of the practice of expressing breast milk. The aim of this article is to explore the embodied practice of expressing breast milk. This is done by analysing, from a feminist poststructuralist perspective, discourse surrounding expressing breast milk in sixteen first time mothers' accounts of early infant feeding. Participants were recruited from a hospital in the South Midlands of England. The data are drawn from the first phase of a larger longitudinal study, during which mothers kept an audio diary about their breastfeeding experiences for seven days following discharge from hospital, and then took part in a follow-up interview. Key themes identified are expressing breast milk as (i) a way of managing pain whilst still feeding breast milk; (ii) a solution to the inefficiencies of the maternal body; (iii) enhancing or disrupting the 'bonding process'; (iv) a way of managing feeding in public; and (v) a way to negotiate some independence and manage the demands of breastfeeding. Links between these and broader historical and socio-cultural constructions and practices are discussed. This analysis expands current feminist theorising around how women actively create the 'good maternal body'. As constructed by the participants, expressing breast milk appears to be largely a way of aligning subjectivity with cultural ideologies of motherhood. Moreover, breastfeeding discourses and practices available to mothers are not limitless and processes of power restrict the possibilities for women in relation to infant feeding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)900-907
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2009


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