Inherited understandings: the breast as object

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McBRIDE-HENRY K, WHITE G and BENN C. Nursing Inquiry 2009; 16: 33–42

Inherited understandings: the breast as object

This paper discusses findings from a research study that investigated the experience of being a breastfeeding woman in New Zealand. The study was motivated by a desire to better understand why the majority of New Zealand women wean their infants before 6 months of age, despite the benefits of prolonged breastfeeding being well accepted. Nineteen women, who were breastfeeding or had recently breastfed, were engaged in unstructured interviews about their experience, and the results were examined using a reflective lifeworld research methodology. The findings presented here demonstrate that women often employ an interpretive framework that is aligned with the philosophical tradition of Descartes’ mind–body split, also know as Cartesian dualism. This leads to a widely held perception of the breast as an object, which emerged in the participants’ narratives and is explored using Heidegger's philosophical interpretation of equipment. We conclude that the objectification of the breast in our society fails to provide women with language that describes the breastfeeding experience in a meaningful way, thus undermining women's ability to articulate and reconcile their embodied breastfeeding experiences.

Keywords: Heidegger; breastfeeding; embodiment; object–subject; philosophy; reflective lifeworld research

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand, 2: Ministry of Health, Sultanate of Oman, 3: Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

Publication date: March 1, 2009

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