Breastfeeding in public: Women's bodies, women's milk

David Pontin, S Dowling, J Naidoo

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter focuses on the US but also makes reference to international and cross-cultural issues. Perspectives gained from current research in this area from the UK are also discussed. It brings together current thinking from public health, breastfeeding and cultural research and gives a strong emphasis to women's experiences.Breastfeeding in public is an important public health issue. National and international targets exist both for exclusivity and for the duration of breastfeeding, supported by good research evidence about the health benefits both for women and children (Horta et al., 2007; Ip et al., 2007). Increasing breastfeeding rates has clear implications for population health. The nature of human milk and the need for frequent feeding mean that establishing and sustaining breastfeeding is difficult if women do not feel comfortable breastfeeding in public (Wolf, 2008).Breastfeeding takes place within cultural contexts and many women receive conflicting messages from the dominant culture about their bodies, their breastfeeding behaviour and their role as mothers (Stearns, 1999). The public health message is clearly 'breast is best' but breasts are primarily seen as sexual objects and for men; consequently breastfeeding has sexual connotations and is seen as 'dirty' and not for public view. This chapter draws on the literature about the cultural construction of women's bodies, bodily fluids and sexuality and discusses the ways in which these are used to control women's behaviour. Illustrative examples are included from the US and elsewhere.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeyond Health, Beyond Choice. Breastfeeding Constraints and Realities.
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2012


  • breastfeeding
  • public health
  • feminism


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