The Breastfeeding Dilemma Virtual Workshop
The Breastfeeding Dilemma workshop was held on the 23rd of March 2016 in London South Bank University. It brought together academics, policy makers, medical professionals, parental support organisations, members of the media, mothers and members of the public to address the Breastfeeding Dilemma: how do we encourage breastfeeding and support women in doing so, without subjecting those who choose not to breastfeed, or are unable to do so, to shame and guilt with potentially devastating consequences? We explored philosophical mistakes in the way we talk and think about infant feeding choices and the impact pressure to breastfeed can have on maternal health and the experience of new motherhood.
However, there were many people who wanted to attend the Breastfeeding Dilemma but were unable to do so. By popular demand, we decided to put together a virtual workshop, with the launch timed to coincide with World Breastfeeding Week 2016. To take part:
To join in,
(1) Listen to the Introduction to the Virtual Workshop (recording available here, transcript available here.)
(2)Have a look at the abstracts, recordings, and links to papers which can be found below (You can look at as much or as little as you wish but I'd suggest beginning by listening to the Overview of Talks.)
(3) Look at the discussion questions, available here.
(4) Take part in the discussion in the comments session of this blog post. In order to get a good discussion going, I am hoping lots of people will join in at 10am and 4pm GMT on the 2nd of August 2016. I'll be on hand to respond during those times. However, the discussion will be open for postings indefinitely, so don't worry if you can't make those times.
(5) Fill in our feedback form to let us know what you thought about the workshop.
Note: If you are joining us for the scheduled discussion times, you may want to do Steps 1-3 ahead of time.
Introduction to the Virtual Workshop
Recording available here. Transcript available here.
Overview of Talks
Recording available here. Transcript available here.
Fiona Woollard, (Philosophy, Southampton), “Breastfeeding and Duty: Philosophical Mistakes about Motherhood in discussion of Infant Feeding Decisions.”
Anecdotal evidence of the intense pressure surrounding infant feeding decisions is easy to acquire simply by talking to new mothers. Several sociological studies report an association between decisions to formula feed and feelings of guilt, blame and failure. Indeed, whatever decision women make about feeding decisions they face what Elizabeth Murphy calls a “moral minefield”
I connect moral pressure regarding infant feeding decisions to a mistaken assumption in discussion of maternal behaviour more generally. The assumption is that a mother who fails to do something to benefit her child is liable for moral criticism unless she can provide sufficient countervailing considerations to justify her decision. This assumption contributes to a culture of pervasive guilt and self-sacrifice that undermines women’s emotional wellbeing and discourages pursuit of nondomestic goals. Requiring such justification treats the mother as if she has a defeasible duty to perform any action that might benefit her child. This involves mistakes about the conflation between moral reasons and moral duties and confusion about the scope of a mother’s duty to benefit.
A audio version of the talk is available here. A handout (which includes formal versions of the arguments) is available here.
This paper has now developed into a draft, coauthored with Lindsey Porter, which we hope to publish in a bioethics journal. To download click here.
Gill Thomson (Community Health and Midwifery, UCLan) “Shame Associated with Infant Feeding.
Shame is considered to be one of our most basic social emotions; a concept that includes negative affects (i.e. fear, anxiety, humiliation), cognitions (i.e. feelings of failure and inadequacy) and behavioural (i.e. withdrawal from scrutiny and judgement) responses. In this presentation I discuss how the concept of shame is evident in women’s infant experiences, irrespective of how they feed their infants. Four key themes and associated women’s quotes will be presented which highlight how shame is encountered and experienced in relation to ‘exposure of women’s bodies and choices’; ‘undermining and insufficient support’; ‘language and rules of infant feeding’ and ‘inadequate mothering’. These insights highlight how negative reactions and responses to women’s bodies, abilities and infant feeding methods can lead to breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers feeling inadequate, defective and isolated. Implications to mitigate shame will be discussed in terms of how ecological based solutions that operate on a cultural, provider and personal/individual perspective need to be considered.
Gill's talk is based on a paper that can be found here. (Note the paper isn't open access.)
Elselijn Kingma (Philosophy, Southampton),, “Breastfeeding, Pressure, and Illocutionary Silencing.”
One of the most striking features of the breastfeeding dilemma is that everybody feels criticised, pressured and unsupported: both women who don’t breastfeed, and women who do. Both parties are frequently inclined to blame the person or group they feel is criticising them. “Society should stop pressuring women to breastfeed,” one group claims. “Society should normalise breastfeeding and stop pressurising women not to breastfeed,” the other group says. But how can society do both?
This paper suggests that at least some of the problem here is not due to what people actually say or do, but is created by the social and linguistic context in which their utterances get meaning. This context ensures that descriptive statements become loaded with considerable normative force. “Breastfeeding has some benefits” becomes “you must breastfeed”. “I found it much easier to bottle-feed” becomes “you are a fool if you breastfeed”. If my argument is right than this not only provides part of the explanation for why everyone feels criticised and why healthcare providers (and other people) may find this territory so difficult to navigate, but, drawing upon the work of Rae Langton, I also suggest that this means speech relevant to maternal choice surrounding pregnancy and early motherhood is perniciously, and systematically, silenced.
A recording of Elselijn's talk is available by clicking here.
Heather Trickey (Cardiff University, NCT), “Beyond ‘choice’ … how might an ecological perspective change the terms of the infant feeding debate?”
Research on ‘breastfeeding’ strikes chords. A casual mention in conversation that I am studying infant feeding policy will elicit a feeding narrative: frequently personal, sometimes about the experience of a partner, sister, mother, grandmother or friend. This is wonderful, stimulating and engaging stuff; the immediacy feeds my own passion for understanding the different meanings that feeding a baby has for each of us and stimulates my thinking as to how to go about researching what ‘good policy’ would look like. Equally compelling is the inevitable under-current; a mutual checking out of positions. As a researcher, I find myself ‘accounting’ in a way that seems to mirror the ‘identity work’ that mothers themselves engage in when explaining their feeding decisions to each other. Bottom line: which ‘side’ am I on? And exactly how rabid am I? My current research views infant feeding policy in ecological perspective; that is, I am interested in whether, why and how multiple factors relating to the wider physical, legal, commercial, economic and social environments within which women reside are (or are not) integrated with infant feeding policy. This focus grew out of participative research for NCT which sought to reconcile the charity’s focus on ensuring that women were enabled to have positive experiences of feeding their babies with a focus on promoting the conditions for supporting and enabling breastfeeding. In this presentation I consider how a perspective that is explicitly mother-centred (rather than focused on the baby’s ‘health’) and which is ecologically-focused (rather than focused on providing messages for individual mothers) fits within the wider discourse on infant feeding, and how such a perspective might help us to depolarise the current debate.
A recording of Heather's talk is available by clicking here.
The workshop was funded by the Southampton Ethics Centre and a Public Engagement with Research Development Award from the University of Southampton.
This workshop was part of a series of projects on Philosophy of Pregnancy and Early Motherhood at the University of Southampton, run by Elselijn Kingma and Fiona Woollard.
 See Lakshman R., Ogilvie D. & Ong K.K. (2009) Mothers’ experiences of bottle-feeding: a systematic review of qualitative and quantitative studies. Archives of Disease in Childhood 94, 596–601.). (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3697301/ accessed 5th February 2016.)
 Murphy E. (1999) ‘Breast is best’: infant feeding decisions and maternal deviance. Sociology of Health and Illness 21, p. 187.
London Southbank University,
London SE1 6NG.
Wednesday 23rd March 2016