Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation uses the concept of attachments to explicate women’s breastfeeding practices and beliefs in the racially and economically segregated St. Louis, Missouri region. My analysis examines the interplay among attachments at three levels: women’s intrapersonal attachments to specific concepts of self; their attachments to the values and priorities of social groups; and attachments they form in response to larger structural and ideological forces in society. I argue that racial and socioeconomic disparities are manifested through breastfeeding praxis, so that breastfeeding serves as a lens through which these oppressions and disparities can be more fully viewed. To illuminate this, I focus specifically on three areas of inquiry within the larger topic of breastfeeding. First, I examine how constructions of good motherhood, as deployed by women themselves and by different breastfeeding professionals, interact with women’s breastfeeding practices and state policies concerning breastfeeding, as well as with wider processes of institutional racism, capitalism, and the consumer marketplace of breastfeeding. Next, I analyze the idea of breastfeeding as natural and the ways this conceptualization has been promulgated by breastfeeding experts and public health agencies, as well as the ways this is reinterpreted and complicated at the local level. Finally, I examine the impacts of new technologies such as breast pumps that shift emphasis from breastfeeding as an intimate process to breastmilk as a measurable product. This dissertation highlights the mechanisms through which capitalism and structural racism interact to create and perpetuate disparities in breastfeeding initiation and duration, which has impacts on both infant and maternal health. Based on my research findings, I call for both structural and community level changes to remediate this disparity.
Chair and Committee
Barbara Baumgartner, Aunchalee Palmquist, Elizabeth A. Quinn, Bradley Stoner, Vetta S. Thompson
Sobonya, Sarah, "Lactating in St. Louis: Attachments, Technologies, and Disparities" (2016). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 897.