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Soc Sci Med. 2007 Jul;65(2):393-404. Epub 2007 Apr 19.

Secrets and lies: Breastfeeding and professional paid work.

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Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster, UK. <>


This paper explores the conflict between health advice and organisational practice regarding breastfeeding. It focuses on the group of mothers with the highest rates of both breastfeeding initiation and of continuous employment following maternity leave: specifically, educated mothers in managerial and/or professional occupations. In this context, the paper investigates, through in-depth interviews, the embodied experiences of 20 heterosexual UK mothers, qualified to degree level, who returned to professional employment within 1 year of childbirth. The paper observes that mothers who attempted to combine breastfeeding with paid work did so with difficulty because the material activity of breastfeeding was 'taboo' within the workplace. Thus, the requirement to conform to organisational expectations regarding 'suitable' embodied behaviour contradicted health advice about what was 'best' for infant children. In order to comply with workplace requirements, mothers in the study were obliged either to cease breastfeeding or to conceal breastfeeding activities. In the light of mothers' experiences, the paper suggests that breastfeeding duration rates among professionally employed mothers can only be improved if negative attitudes about maternal bodies and employment are challenged and if employers, as well as mothers, are the focus of health initiatives aimed at promoting breastfeeding.

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