Maintaining the 'good maternal body': Expressing milk as a way of negotiating the demands and dilemmas of early infant feeding

Sally Johnson, Dawn Leeming, Iain Williamson, Steven Lyttle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Aim. To report a descriptive study of early infant feeding experiences focusing on accounts of women who expressed milk extensively in the first few weeks postpartum. Background. Relatively little is known about the reasons for expressing milk following healthy term births. Evidence indicates it is an increasingly common practice during early infant feeding in Westernized countries. A more comprehensive understanding of this practice will help midwives and nurses assist mothers negotiate early feeding challenges. Design. Qualitative data were collected in two phases in the first few weeks postpartum. Method. Audio-diary and semi-structured interview data from seven British women who extensively expressed milk in the first month postpartum were analysed. These data were drawn from a larger qualitative longitudinal study which took place in 2006-2007. Themes, discursive constructions and discourses are identified through the use of a feminist informed analysis. Findings. The practice of expressing was employed as a solution to managing the competing demands and dilemmas of early breastfeeding and ensuring the continued provision of breast milk, thereby deflecting potential accusations of poor mothering. In addition, the practice may afford a degree of freedom to new mothers. Conclusions. The need to maintain the 'good maternal body' can account for the motivation to express milk, although there may be reasons to be cautious about promoting expression as a solution to breastfeeding difficulties. Education for health professionals, which emphasizes the complexities and contradictions of mothering and which challenges prescriptive notions of 'good mothering' could better support new mothers in their feeding 'choices'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)590-599
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2013


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