Thesis: Measuring Breastfeeding Success in the Initial Months after Birth (working title)
Research: Global and national health guidelines emphasise the many short- and long-term benefits of breastfeeding for mother and infant. There is significant evidence to suggest that it plays a preventative role in obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and other obesity-related diseases, as well as being beneficial for the immune and gastrointestinal systems of the infant. There are numerous maternal benefits to breastfeeding, including a lowered risk for certain cancers. However, significant barriers exist to the continuation of breastfeeding, and in the UK only 1% of mothers breastfeed exclusively for the recommended six months. The majority of mothers who stop breastfeeding do so sooner than they had intended. My ethnographic research within a network of community-based breastfeeding support services follows new mothers who must learn to measure and support their infant’s health within a framework that prioritises physiological development of the infant, holds mothers to account through a discourse of epigenetic responsibility, and uses universalising routines of measurement to quantify health. Simultaneously, individuals must master the unfamiliar body technique of breastfeeding that is reliant on embodied knowledge. It necessitates navigation of a learning process that is often fraught with complications and is characterised by societal pressure with concurrent gaps in institutional support. My project is concerned with understanding how women respond to the nutritional needs of their babies in a complex personal and social context, and the approaches they adopt in this process.