Johnson, Sally, Leeming, Dawn, Lyttle, Steven and Williamson, Iain (2010) Empowerment or regulation? Exploring the implications of women's perspectives on pumping and expressing breast milk. In: 5th Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium: Informing Public Health Approaches, 20th March, 2010, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA. (Unpublished)

The feminist literature on pumping and expressing breast milk has highlighted contradictory theorisation of these practices. On the one hand they have been argued to represent a form of ‘control’ placed upon breastfeeding in that they offer a way of managing future expectations about returning to ‘normal’ activities. Additionally, the use of breast pumps has been theorised as contributing to the commercialisation, medicalisation and mechanisation of breastfeeding. On the other hand, it has been noted that these practices have the potential to be empowering, in that they allow for greater paternal involvement in infant feeding and increased freedom for women. In this paper we report on an analysis of first-time mothers’ reasons for pumping and expressing breast milk drawn from a recent British qualitative study. Our analysis suggests that these practices were employed for a myriad of complex, multi-layered reasons which can be seen as potentially both empowering and disempowering. For instance, they were used as a way of managing breastfeeding difficulties and the perceived inefficiencies of the maternal body thus ensuring the continued provision of adequate breast milk. They were also constructed as practices which could be used to manage the realities of modern motherhood including facilitating shared parenting, feeding in public and managing returning to work. We illustrate this complexity by
drawing on detailed case studies of women who used these practices extensively. Implications for public health theory and practice which have the potential to support women in their infant feeding choices are discussed.

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