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Discourses and critiques of breastfeeding and their implications for midwives and health professionals

2020-07-22, Smyth, Dawn, Hyde, Abbey

This article is a discussion of the recently emerging critique of pro-breastfeeding discourses in academic literature, and what this means for midwives and other professionals who find themselves promoting breastfeeding because of professional expectations or indeed workplace policies. Various strands in the debate are explored, starting with dominant and familiar 'evidence' and descriptions of breastfeeding and breastmilk that are carried through to international policies that advocate breast over formula feeding. We then consider evidence predominantly from social science literature that has found some women's experiences of infant feeding to be at variance with the dominant pro-breastfeeding ideology. We argue that midwives and others delivering maternity care are the means to deliver the policy aspirations contained in the World Health Organization (WHO, 2018) Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative document that makes selective positive claims about breastfeeding without adequately considering its potential drawbacks. We conclude that although the benefits of breastfeeding tend to be exaggerated in promotional material, on balance the weight of evidence still favours breast over formula feeding. We challenge the charge that breastfeeding jeopardises women's financial position by arguing that it is not breastfeeding per se that impacts negatively on women's economic prospects, but rather the way in which society is socially organised.