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Accepted Paper:

Building a better humankind one feed at a time: breastfeeding and projections to the future  
Caroline Chautems (University of Lausanne)

Paper short abstract:

In promotion discourses, breastfeeding is deemed optimising children's psycho-emotional development, with mental health benefits extending to their adult life, contributing to a better society. This paper explores the breastfeeding journeys of mothers committed to on-demand, long-term breastfeeding.

Paper long abstract:

Since the 1990s, in most countries, breastfeeding has been promoted by public health agencies and child health experts as the most appropriate infant-feeding mode. In addition to epidemiological considerations, according to developmental psychology, breastfeeding would favour mother and child “bonding”, fostering a “secure” attachment for children and optimising their brain development. In this perspective, a failure in the attachment process may have long-term consequences, beyond childhood and the family unit, possibly leading to deviant behaviours and social troubles, while breastfeeding would protect from these hazards. Breastfeeding then becomes a moral obligation for mothers, and their role as primary care taker is enhanced and naturalised.

Based on an ethnography of home-birth parents’ breastfeeding journey in Switzerland from the first hours after birth to weaning, this paper discusses how mothers conceptualise breastfeeding as a means to raise kind and compassionate human beings, hoping to build a better future. They engage in a “child-centred” approach to parenting, including on-demand breastfeeding and child-led weaning, driven by a commitment to communicating with their child. Through their breastfeeding projects, these mothers challenge neoliberal individualistic values, and pledge for a “proximal”, body-anchored mothering. At the same time, self-sufficiency remains their objective, as children’s dependence is deemed a key transition step for building solid emotional foundations ultimately leading to their autonomy. As it unfolds over time, tensions may arise, and breastfeeding appears as a process mothers constantly negotiate, with their child, their partner, their relatives, but also with themselves and their commitment to their parenting project.

Panel P013c
Motherhood Transformed and Transforming; Discussing the role of motherhood(s) and mother work in constructing futures of hope III
  Session 1 Thursday 28 July, 2022, -