Socially sensitive lactation: Exploring the social context of breastfeeding

Dawn Leeming, Iain Williamson, Steven Lyttle, Sally Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Many women report difficulties with breastfeeding and do not maintain the practice for as long as intended. Although psychologists and other researchers have explored some of the difficulties they experience, fuller exploration of the relational contexts in which breastfeeding takes place is warranted to enable more in-depth analysis of the challenges these pose for breastfeeding women. This article is based on qualitative data collected from 22 first-time breastfeeding mothers through two phases of interviews and audio-diaries which explored how the participants experienced their relationships with significant others and the wider social context of breastfeeding in the first five weeks postpartum. Using a thematic analysis informed by symbolic interactionism, we develop the overarching theme of 'Practising socially sensitive lactation' which captures how participants felt the need to manage tensions between breastfeeding and their perceptions of the needs, expectations and comfort of others. We argue that breastfeeding remains a problematic social act, despite its agreed importance for child health. While acknowledging the limitations of our sample and analytic approach, we suggest ways in which perinatal and public health interventions can take more effective account of the social challenges of breastfeeding in order to facilitate the health and psychological well-being of mothers and their infants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)450-468
Number of pages19
JournalPsychology and Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2013


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