Breastfeeding Mothers’ Experiences: The Ghost in the Machine

Regan, Paul and Ball, Elaine (2013) Breastfeeding Mothers’ Experiences: The Ghost in the Machine. Qualitative Health Research, 23 (5). pp. 679-688. ISSN 1049-7323

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We critically review qualitative research studies conducted from 2000 to 2012 exploring Western mothers’ breastfeeding experiences. We used the search criteria “breastfeeding,” “qualitative,” and “experiences” to retrieve 74 qualitative research studies, which were reduced to 28 when the terms “existential’’ and “research’’ were applied. We found that the impact of technology and the pervasive worldwide marketing of infant formula devalued breastfeeding mothers’ narratives in a number of ways. Women’s bodies were viewed as machine-like objects and the breast was seen as a disembodied object. Dominated by technological narrative, women’s bodies were considered unpredictable and hormonal, needing to be managed by health care professionals. This means the disseminating breastfeeding discourse needs to be reinterpreted for practical use. We found that some of the researchers utilized narrative informed by phenomenological philosophy that appears to edge closer to understanding mothers’ experiences in a more profound way than nonphenomenological research. However, we need to be mindful of the transparency of terms in replacing one form of technological narrative with another.

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