Breastfeeding is considered the baby-feeding 'gold-standard' with the World Health Organization recommending exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life. Yet very low breastfeeding rates are reported worldwide. In this phenomenological exploration of breastfeeding, which is inspired by my own experiences as a long-term breastfeeding mother, I suggest that to account for this gap, breastfeeding should be explored holistically, from the nursing mother's perspective, as an embodied and relational commitment which can trigger ambivalence. I address this ambivalence through seven research questions. The first and overarching question asks: 1) What is the embodied experience of breastfeeding? This question is approached by asking 2) What are women's breastfeeding-related attitudes and expectations? 3) How does breastfeeding impact women's social lives? 4) Does breastfeeding require particular logistical or organizational considerations? 5) Do women feel support and inclusion in breastfeeding? 6) Do women find breastfeeding limiting and challenging? and 7) How do social, cultural, and political contexts affect breastfeeding? To answer these questions, I conducted six open-ended interviews with Israeli breastfeeding women whose life circumstances align with my own. Interview transcripts were analyzed phenomenologically to provide an emerging conceptualization of breastfeeding which I have categorized in terms of positive, negative and in-between experiences. This analysis revealed breastfeeding to have extensive impacts on women's lives, including bodily changes and attitudinal shifts, as well as having significant social, professional, and financial consequences. Given these implications, I propose that breastfeeding is an inherently complex, relational practice which can trigger ambivalence. This ambivalence is felt in conflicting sensations and emotions, thoughts and attitudes. Furthermore, while this ambivalence is influenced by external forces, it is felt subjectively and physically in how women come to see themselves. What is relationally and ecologically understood about breastfeeding is that the care for another can generate a complexly lived experience for the caregiver, yet this complexity is often unacknowledged. Thus the public promotion of breastfeeding as being 'best' in terms of baby-feeding is misaligned with women's lived experiences and therefore counterproductive in encouraging women to breastfeed.
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Thesis advisor: Smith, Stephen
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