Early life and adolescence

Young mothers and infant feeding decisions

Although breastfeeding is well-established as the optimal way of feeding infants, rates of breastfeeding are strikingly low in developed countries such as the UK. In addition, patterns of breastfeeding mirror, and compound, wider health inequalities. Our research focused on the infant feeding experiences of young mothers living in areas of high socio-economic deprivation who are among the least likely groups to breastfeed.

What did the research involve?

Participants took photographs which were then used as the basis for focus group discussions and one-to-one interviews with 27 young mothers from three areas of the UK (Belfast, Bristol and North East England) to understand their general health beliefs, behaviours, and infant feeding decisions. We recruited our participants through Children’s Centres and local organisations providing support for young parents.

What we found?

Our findings consistently showed that the 'moral minefield' of infant feeding is even more complicated for young mothers who must navigate the stigma associated with teenage motherhood, on top of paradoxes and ambiguities around breastfeeding. In other words, while the 'breast is best' discourse has significant discursive traction and women who do not breastfeed are subject to considerable judgement, when, where and how women breastfeed is tightly socially restricted whereby public breastfeeding, visible breastfeeding, and breastfeeding children for 'too long' are seen as subversive acts.

What we did with the findings

From this data, we have developed a series of academic publications focused on young mothers’ health beliefs and behaviours, their perceptions of breastfeeding as a 'deviant' practice, and the lack of support that our participants felt they received from maternity practitioners. We also worked with community organisations to develop recommendations for how they can help to better support young mothers’ infant feeding decisions.

The research has also been shared on the BBC News website, BBC Look North, BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, and also feed into the BBC's Pregnant Teens podcast.

Who conducted the research?

The research was led by Dr Kimberly Jamie (Durham University), Dr Lucy Hackshaw-McGeagh (Oxford Brookes University), and Dr Roisin O’Neill (Queens University Belfast) with research assistant support from Dr Hannah Bows (Durham University), and Dr Rhona Beynon (Bristol University).

Who funded this study?

The project was funded by Cancer Research UK as part of their focus on cancer prevention in 'harder to reach' groups and ran from 2015 to 2018. While we take issue with this notion of 'harder to reach', our research focused on young mothers as a group more likely to sit at the sharp end of health inequalities but often falling between the cracks of services.

For more information, please

Email: Dr Kimberly Jamie, kimberly.jamie@durham.ac.uk

Last modified: Thu, 25 Feb 2021 10:42:02 GMT