Infant Feeding: How might ideas from the traditions of public health, psychology and philosophy help us to Change the Conversation

Heather Trickey
DECIPHer Research Associate

To time with UNICEF UK Baby Friendly’s Annual Conference, Heather Trickey has brought together a series of short articles providing new perspectives on the way we talk about feeding babies. The online articles are published in NCT Perspective magazine, with contributions from Public Health, Psychology and Philosophy.

To link to these articles, please click HERE.

 

UNICEF UK has launched a Call to Action for breastfeeding in the UK. This call builds on a series of articles published in The Lancet in 2016, which included a message that infant feeding policy should refocus on addressing social and structural causes of low breastfeeding rates. The call includes the plea to shift away from polarised debate and look to ‘change the conversation’ about the way that babies are fed:

 by stopping laying the responsibility for this major public health issue in the laps of individual women and acknowledging the role that politics and society has to play at every level. The goal of our Call to Action is not to put pressure on women to breastfeed, but to remove the barriers that currently stop women who want to breastfeed from doing so.

It is no small task to translate a call for a national-level policy shift into changes in individual day-to-day conversations. As health professionals, counsellors, peer supporters, parents, grandparents and friends, how might we even begin to do that?

A different sort of conversation

Perhaps we need a few conceptual tools to help us break the ice? This series of linked articles published in NCT Perspective offer a starter-size portion of ideas drawn from public health, psychology and philosophy.

The first article, based on my research, crosses the fields of social science and public health. I describe ways in which the ecological thinking underpinning UNICEF UK’s Call To Action may help us depolarise our conversations by shifting the focus from women’s individual health behaviours towards a more conducive social context and improved social rights. This way of thinking is congruent with NCT’s infant feeding policy, which emphasises supporting all mothers, however they feed their babies, while promoting and protecting ‘the conditions that make decisions to breastfeed more straightforward’.

In the second article, Dawn Leeming, a psychologist, introduces the concept of shame and considers how women’s feeding journeys are made more challenging by unrealistic expectations of breastfeeding, idealised representations of motherhood, and sometimes misunderstood terminology. She argues that an affirming and supportive context will be essential if mothers who are struggling are to feel encouraged to reach out for help.

In the third article, Fiona Woollard views our society’s conversations through a philosophy lens. She argues that we commonly make the mistake of confusing having a reason to breastfeed with having a duty to breastfeed. This confusion stems from a wider problem: an underlying perception that mothers have a duty to perform any action which might benefit their children, such that each failure to perform requires defence, a notion that has negative consequences for maternal wellbeing. Eliminating underlying philosophical mistakes might help to strengthen the foundation for a more supportive context.

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