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‘At the breast is best?’ Challenging the marginalisation of breastmilk expression in infant feeding advice for improving health promotional materials

Unit(s) of assessment: Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management

Research theme: Health and Wellbeing

School: School of Arts and Humanities


This academic research project is part of the Centre for the Study of Inequality, Culture and Difference.

There is growing evidence that women feel unsupported in choosing to express breastmilk to feed their newborns, which is not always well understood by health professionals. As a result, there is currently a paucity of public health guidance on ‘exclusive pumping’ – the exclusive expression of breastmilk as an alternative to ‘nursing’ at the breast or formula feeding. Research on women’s personal experiences of breastfeeding has also shown that women who feel ‘unsuccessful’ at breastfeeding are more likely to suffer poor mental health outcomes. More inclusive guidance on infant feeding is therefore needed to address this lack of support for other forms of infant feeding, that will ultimately lead to positive mental health outcomes for new parents.

To that end, this project ultimately seeks to improve guidance and support for breastmilk expression through attention to more inclusive language choices.

Addressing the Challenge

To improve guidance for new parents, the project will critically analyse existing dominant messaging in babyfeeding advice literature; provide evidence for the marginalization of breastmilk expression in current guidance; and explore parents’ experiences of expressing milk and the support they receive from health professionals during this period of early child-rearing.

The first step in achieving this will be to examine contemporary discourses of babyfeeding in a large corpus of online public health babyfeeding promotional literature and social media campaigns by different infant feeding advocacy groups, to observe where there are gaps in the provision for breastmilk expression, and to inform work on devising/augmenting existing guidelines.

The second phase of this project will be to work more closely with relevant stakeholders, including parents, health professionals and infant feeding advocates to improve support and guidance for parents who choose to express breastmilk exclusively or in combination with other forms of babyfeeding.

Image: Getty Image, Jamie Grill


Dr Laura Coffey-Glover

Dr Victoria Howard (Research fellow in Linguistics)

Making a Difference

Aside from academic outputs that provide feminist critical analyses of dominant discourses of babyfeeding, the project aims to work with health professionals and families to co-produce parent-facing guidance that adopts inclusive language for supporting families in their feeding choices (whatever these choices may be). Healthcare providers are becoming increasingly aware of the potential impacts that language choices can have on people’s experiences of healthcare provision. For example, earlier this year, Brighton and Sussex NHS Hospital Trust introduced guidelines to midwives for using ‘gender-additive’ language in their perinatal services, to provide a more inclusive environment for trans and non-binary parents (such as encouraging phrasing like ‘women and people’ rather than just ‘women’). In the wider context of increased public and institutional awareness of gender equality issues, then, there is an appetite for language reforms that seek to improve health advice in line with broader political and socio-cultural anti-discriminatory agendas.