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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Kimberly Jamie

Jamie, K., Hackshaw-McGeagh, L., Bows, H. & O'Neill, R. (2020). "I just don't think it's that natural": Adolescent mothers' constructions of breastfeeding as deviant. Sociology of Health & Illness 42(7): 1689-1708.

Author(s) from Durham


Breastfeeding is recognised globally as the optimal method of infant feeding. For Murphy (1999) Sociology of Health & Illness, 21, 187–208 its nutritional superiority positions breastfeeding as a moral imperative where mothers who formula‐feed are open to charges of maternal deviance and must account for their behaviour. We suggest that this moral superiority of breastfeeding is tenuous for mothers from marginalised contexts and competes with discourses which locate breastfeeding, rather than formula feeding, as maternal deviance. We draw on focus group and interview data from 27 adolescent mothers from socio‐economically deprived neighbourhoods in three areas of the UK, and five early years professionals working at a Children’s Centre in the Northeast of England. We argue that breastfeeding is constructed as deviance at three ‘levels’ as (i) a deviation from broad social norms about women’s bodies, (ii) a deviation from local mothering behaviours and (iii) a transgression within micro‐level interpersonal and familial relationships. Given this positioning of breastfeeding as deviant, breastfeeding mothers feel obliged to account for their deviance.

In making this argument, we extend and rework Murphy’s (1999) Sociology of Health & Illness, 21, 187–208 framework to encompass diverse experiences of infant feeding. We conclude with reflections on future research directions and potential implications for practice.