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Infant feeding in risk society

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A large percentage of British women, in common with women in other Western countries, feed their young babies formula milk. The paper reports some findings of a study of infant feeding that focussed on women's experiences of feeding their babies this way. Data about this issue were collected through detailed, qualitative face to face interviews with 33 mothers and through telephone interviews using a structured questionnaire with 503 mothers. The study found overall that mother's accounts of feeding babies formula milk draw attention to contradictions and tensions in motherhood and mothering. Formula feeding is predominantly experienced by mothers as 'easy,' enabling them to address a wide range of demands and difficulties that mothering a small baby poses for them. At the same time, mothers demonstrate awareness of the socio-cultural construction of the 'moral mother' as the mother who minimizes and avoids risk, and so does not use formula milk for infant feeding. How women react to this tension between 'real life' and 'doing what is healthy' varies, but the study reported here found a large minority of women experience manifestly difficult and debilitating feelings as they attempt to reconcile a pragmatic wish or need to formula feed with dominant constructions of the 'moral mother.' By detailing women's accounts of this aspect of motherhood, the paper contributes to sociological investigation of everyday experiences of risk society. To contextualize this discussion, a brief account of the relationship between eating, feeding babies and risk society is also offered.

Keywords: Motherhood; breast feeding; formula feeding; morality; risk

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: SSPSSR, University of Kent, UK

Publication date: 2007-09-01

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