'This Is Not What It’s Supposed to Be Like’: Avoiding Unwelcome Identifications Associated With Public Breastfeeding

Paola Taormina 1, Chris McVittie 2 * , Andy McKinlay 3

AM J QUALITATIVE RES, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp. 30-43

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From a discursive perspective, identities fall to be understood not as inherent properties of individuals but rather as matters that are negotiated within and emerge from social interactions with others. Adopting this perspective, we examine how mothers who breastfeed their infants in public negotiate issues of identity. The activity of public breastfeeding presents problems for identity in that it is often seen by others, and sometimes by breastfeeding mothers themselves, as socially inappropriate in that by engaging in public breastfeeding women are partly exposing their bodies. The aim of this study was to investigate how mothers who breastfeed their infants in public seek to address identity problems that can arise from engaging in this activity. We examine discussions from a focus group conducted with five members of a drop-in support group for breastfeeding mothers. Discourse analysis of group discussions shows that group members provide descriptions of difficulties that they have experienced when breastfeeding in public, and partly exposing their bodies to co-present others. These descriptions, however, rely on detail that allows the participants or other group members to undermine them and to ward off the potentially negative identities with which they are associated. The descriptions, then, are designed to attend to social concerns surrounding public breastfeeding and thereby to allow participants to construct identities that are not associated with problems.

Keywords: Describing Actions, Discourse Analysis, Identities, Mothers, Public Breastfeeding.