Pregnancy and motherhood are increasingly subjected to surveillance and research has highlighted that public breastfeeding is difficult to navigate. At the same time, mothers who formula feed often feel that they are viewed as failing mothers. A study by Aimee Grant, Dawn Mannay, and Ruby Marzella explored these issues with new mothers in Wales.
Feelings of being watched, evaluated and judged, with some direct experiences of being questioned by strangers, were centralised in many of the mothers’ reflections. This was the case for both breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers, as illustrated by some of the reflections from mothers in the study;
‘People are thinking: “why is she bottle feeding? Why is she?” Even to the point I almost feel that I have to make comments that it’s my own milk.’
‘I felt kept thinking, oh, you know, what are people going to think? And at one point, we were in one restaurant once, I was actually conscious I was hiding the powder, like I was actually doing it really secretively, mixing it.’
‘The cleaner, this man, was, just cleaning around the tables, who worked there, and he came up to me and said, “Are you breastfeeding?”’
‘I was in the park [breastfeeding] and I didn’t have the cover… you feel quite dirty … you feel like … you’re just stood there pole dancing … that’s how you kind of get looked at like … sort of like, ooh how dirty’
The study illustrated how challenging it was for mothers to manage intrusions from strangers in public places where they felt less in control of situations and dynamics between individuals, and how these encounters impact on their confidence and feeding choices. More information about this study can be found here in the short film and articles.
Cardiff University Video
Understanding health behaviour in pregnancy and infant feeding intentions in low-income women from the UK through qualitative visual methods and application to the COM-B (Capability, Opportunity, Motivation – Behaviour) model – Authors: Aimee Grant, Melanie Morgan, Dawn Mannay and Dunla Gallagher, 2019
‘People try and police your behaviour’: the impact of surveillance on mothers and grandmothers’ perceptions and experiences of infant feeding – Authors: Aimee Grant, Dawn Mannay and Ruby Marzella, 2018
Negotiating Closed Doors and Constraining Deadlines: The Potential of Visual Ethnography to Effectually Explore Private and Public Spaces of Motherhood and Parenting – Authors: Dawn Mannay, Jordon Creaghan, Dunla Gallagher, Ruby Marzella, Sherelle Mason, Melanie Morgan and Aimee Grant, 2017