Locke, Abigail and Budds, Kirsty (2011) “I’m glad I persevered but…”: Women’s reports of early breastfeeding experiences. In: Understanding the Social World Conference 2011, 13th - 15th July 2011, University of Huddersfield. (Unpublished)

Currently the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding until the child is at least six months of age. Although these WHO recommendations are in place, figures around infant feeding in the UK suggest that breastfeeding rates are low with over half of babies not being breastfed by six weeks of age. As has been noted elsewhere, moral constructions of being a good mother are bound together with breastfeeding behaviour. Research has considered the actual teaching of infant feeding and tensions between initiation and adherence rates in breastfeeding have been noted. There is a stream of research that reports women’s early experiences of breastfeeding with the findings suggesting that women’s early experiences of feeding do not match their expectations of it. The data for this study is drawn from a series of interviews with women over thirty five talking about their experiences of older motherhood. The mothers were not asked about feeding but we found that the majority of the interviewees brought up the issue of breastfeeding and the unexpected difficulties that they had faced with it. Using a thematic analysis, this paper offers a discussion of the issues that are reported with breastfeeding and women’s accounts of their early feeding experiences. We find the dominant discourse of ‘breast is best’ coming through in women’s accounts of breastfeeding but also noted the difficulties and tensions in acting on this message reported by the mothers. We conclude that more realistic accounts of breastfeeding, including discussions of any potential problems and solutions, would be of benefit to women in the antenatal period.

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