Date of Award

May 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Paul E Brodwin

Committee Members

Benjamin C Campbell, Alyson L Lippman


biocultural, breastfeeding, infant feeding, maternal health, public health policy, reproduction


Universal and bioactive, breastfeeding is a burgeoning biocultural topic because it incorporates biological and social determinants of human behavior. The topic has amassed media attention framed as part of a bigger imagining of motherhood as an idealized state directed at the female body’s performance. This paper questions media and public policy’s role in the dissemination of culture and the symbolic value of breastmilk. This study examines breastfeeding discourses through the lens of an American, mostly white, Midwestern middle-class social structure. Using participant observation data of two postpartum support groups and semi-structured interviews with six primiparous mothers, my data suggests that women encounter an emotionally embodied process of learning when the biological demands and self- or socially- constructed ideals come in conflict with the practical realities of breastfeeding. Women will navigate a moral landscape when talking about breastfeeding, but do so through pedagogical and social strategies to ‘survive the newborn’. Shame and guilt, therefore, a product of the politicized media and social marketing policy rhetoric that positions infant feeding as a matter of individual choice and responsibility rather than addressing the practical barriers women encounter.