Accepted Papers:

Full-term breastfeeding: archaeology, anthropology and advocating 'natural' styles of parenting  


Charlotte Faircloth (University of Roehampton )

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper profiles research with mothers in London who breastfeed their children ‘to full term’ as part of a philosophy of ‘attachment parenting’. Many women refer to this process – which can last anything between one and eight years – as evolutionarily ‘most natural’, drawing on studies of ‘primitives’ and ‘primates’. The paper explores the relationship between archaeology, anthropology and advocacy.

Paper long abstract:

This paper profiles research with 'attachment parents' (or, more strictly, 'attachment mothers') in London who practice a philosophy maintaining maternal-infant proximity over a long period of time (typically, breastfeeding 'on cue', bed-sharing and 'baby-wearing'). In accordance with this philosophy, these mothers breastfeed 'to full-term', following a pattern of lactation supposedly imitating a hominid blueprint of care. Ideally, this means that a mother breastfeeds until her child outgrows the need - for some children this might be at a year old, for others, not until eight years old. Since full term breastfeeding goes against social convention, yet occurs in a climate of 'intensive motherhood' (Hays, 1996) the paper pays close attention to the strategies of rationalization employed by this non-conventional sample of mothers, and the 'identity work' they undertake.

Many women refer to archeological and biological anthropological studies (of 'primitives' or 'primates') when explaining their choice to breastfeed 'to full-term'. Whilst bottle-feeding or even limited breastfeeding is considered artificial, breastfeeding to full-term is considered evolutionarily appropriate, natural and therefore, right. The paper explores the relationship between academic research and advocacy in wider society. Questions of informed consent become troubling where informants assume an advocacy stance from 'an anthropologist' who they assume will validate 'primitive' modes of childcare.

The paper traces the lines of congruence - and tension - between archeology, biological anthropology and social anthropology. The three disciplines rely on some heuristic separation of 'nature' from 'culture', yet the level of reflexivity about this dichotomy varies considerably, both within, and between the three fields.

panel P11
Engaging anthropology and archaeology: theory, practice and publics