🔥🔥🔥 Intensive Mothering Sociology

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Intensive Mothering Sociology

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Perspectives on 'intensive motherhood' - Stephanie Knaak

Rather, cultural sociology proposes that social actors are creative, pragmatic, and even contradictory in how they understand and use culture in the course of their daily lives. In a seminal article, Swidler challenged the idea that cultural values straightforwardly shape action, arguing instead that cultural discourses provide people with potential lines of action—strategies—that they may draw upon selectively in the course of their daily lives. Ideas about childrearing may be transmitted in many ways: through published statements books, blogs, magazine articles , negotiations among family members, conversations among peers, or through interactions with medical or other kinds of professionals. Motherhood serves as a prime example of both the practical and complex, even contradictory features of culture in action.

Hays argues that this represents an enormous, gendered burden placed at the feet of all mothers, but the burden is particularly heavy for working mothers, who experience a contradiction between workplace demands and the requirements of intensive mothering. In North America, investigations into the cultural construction of motherhood have been productively extended in recent years by scholars who examine the ways in which contemporary definitions of motherhood have become intertwined with consumerism Cook For example, Norah MacKendrick describes how growing concerns about the impact of environmental toxins and unseen chemicals on human health have been grafted onto ideologies of good motherhood.

In short, the consumer marketplace provides a key means through which good motherhood is defined and realized, through time-consuming, expensive, and knowledge-intensive consumption practices. There is also a substantial body of work that examines the ways in which breastfeeding has been portrayed as a key means for performing good motherhood Blum ; Wall The contemporary maternalist representation of breastfeeding celebrates the emotional ties created between a child and a nursing mother; the medical model valorizes the healthful qualities of breast milk itself. Rooted in a longer history of eugenics and nation-building, class and racial divides, and the rise of medical expertise and scientific interventions into infant feeding, both the maternalist and medical discourses that Blum describes have served to draw moral lines between good and bad mothering practices, and between good and bad mothers.

More recently, both Joan Wolf and Courtney Jung seek to debunk the enormous importance to infants—physical, emotional, and intellectual—that is attributed to breastfeeding today. Jung reveals how contemporary discourses about breastfeeding in North America wed a deeply moralizing narrative about motherhood to a highly profitable industry marketing a vast array of consumer products. For North American mothers, even breastfeeding represents a practice in which good mothering and consumerism combine Afflerback, Carter, Anthony, and Grauerholz In traditional, Confucian thought, the maternal role was viewed as both important and influential.

Many women, exhausted by the demands of work and political activity outside of the home, had little extra time to devote to childrearing, and it was not uncommon for small children to be cared for by their grandparents or even wet nurses Chen ; Hershatter These urban mothers act upon this uncertainty by trying to create tiaojian for their children—the social, economic, and cultural conditions that allow for success. In more recent years, the intensive demands of motherhood in China have taken what might be characterized as an emotional or psychological turn Evans ; Kuan All these changes reflect a return to an understanding of motherhood wed to particular notions of femininity that draws upon both traditional and newly introduced understandings of women, children, and the relation between them.

Curiously, relatively little attention has been given to parenting and motherhood for very small children in China, though some studies of pregnancy Higgins ; Lin ; Zhu , infant feeding Gottschang ; Hanser and Li , and the childrearing role of grandparents Binah-Pollak ; Goh and Kuczynski examine how the care of babies, infants, and toddlers is organized in China. These studies suggest that even for pregnant and new mothers, contemporary discourses of motherhood are in full force: Anna Higgins has shown how the moral divisions between high- and low- suzhi persons are reflected in both taijiao fetal education directed at mothers, who must nurture a healthy, smart baby through pregnancy, and fetal testing, where the eugenic elements of population discourse are applied Higgins And, if North American research is any indication, infant care and the early months and years of parenthood are particularly intense periods of emotional and cultural investments, contexts in which ideas about motherhood and good parenting are articulated and practiced, shaping future parenting practices as well.

The practices of breastfeeding and infant feeding in contemporary China explored below require some important elements of contextualization. Generally speaking, breastfeeding rates in China have changed considerably over the past 40 years. One review study Xu et al. In recent decades, breastfeeding has been promoted as a national project, although Gottschang critically shows that the initiation of BFHI has neglected the complex situations that new urban mothers confront, and many of them consider infant feeding more an individual consumer choice than simply a biologically determined role.

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, government data suggested that despite efforts to promote breastfeeding, rates had continued to decline. This rate was expected to continue to decline Minter , spurring a body of research in China investigating breastfeeding knowledge among Chinese women Jiang et al. In September , the Chinese government initiated a massive recall of domestically produced infant formula as a result of intentional contamination with the industrial chemical melamine; by the end of the year, it was estimated that at least six infants had died from kidney damage and another , had been affected Hanser and Li In fact, the latest NHSS report shows that the 6-month exclusive breastfeeding rate in had risen to But strikingly, few of our interviewees characterized this as the sole or even the most important reason for breastfeeding their babies, and many of them clearly believed that it was possible to purchase safe infant formula, although often through laborious means.

If great public and government attention to breastfeeding is associated with dropping rates of breastfeeding and the infant formula incident, the actual promotion of breastfeeding among new mothers appears to be more dependent upon social media. An excellent example is the famous Chinese actress Ma Yili, who has become well known for her public support for breastfeeding. Ma Yili is a representative of a broader social media discourse in China that celebrates breastfeeding and motherhood, ranging from motherhood websites to personal posts on social media platforms like wechat. The data for this paper is drawn from two sets of interviews carried out with middle-class mothers in the city of Shanghai. The first set of 26 interviews was conducted between May and June of as part of a larger investigation into the consumption of infant formula in contemporary China.

Our interviewing began with several professional women, whom we asked to introduce us to other women who had had a child within the past 5 years. These interviews were organized around the themes of how these women navigated their pregnancies, experienced their childbirths, and coped with the early months of feeding their babies, but these women were asked the same set of questions about infant feeding as the women in the first data set. Most of the mothers had purchased infant formula as well, and in fact, all but two of our 51 interviewees had transitioned to infant formula or expected to do so in the foreseeable future. Although we focus on breastfeeding in this paper, we address both feeding choices and how women thought about the transition to formula.

The elaborate consumer strategies for purchasing infant formula that these women adopted are the subject of another paper Hanser and Li All our interviewees ranged in age from 27 to 41, with reported monthly household incomes ranging from RMB 10,—40,, which placed them significantly above the average disposable household income in Shanghai of yuan per month in Footnote 6 All were permanent Shanghai residents i.

Each interview lasted between 45 min to more than 1 h. Forty-four of these interviews were recorded and transcribed, while an additional seven were recorded through note-taking only. In addition, seven women from the second interview sample were interviewed two or more times. The relatively small number of interviews made this possible. In the discussion below, we consider how cultural ideologies about motherhood and childrearing are expressed through practices of infant feeding, and breastfeeding in particular. But for many women, breastfeeding is hardly the final or even a straightforward solution to the problem of feeding the baby, and we also describe how our interviewees negotiated the contradictory demands of breastfeeding and employment, conflicting expectations between themselves and family members, and the need to transition away from breastfeeding sooner or later.

Within the larger context of food safety fears, government promotion of breastfeeding and a popular discourse that celebrates the association between breastfeeding and modern motherhood, feeding a baby—by breast or by bottle, with breast milk or with formula—represents a situation in which new mothers actively draw upon a range of cultural narratives about motherhood, health, childrearing, and sacrifice as they care for their child.

It is, in other words, an intensive site for performing motherhood. To some extent, breastfeeding appears to have become an expected practice among middle-class urban mothers in China, and all but one of the 51 mothers in the two sets of interviews we conducted had breastfed their babies for some period of time, ranging from 1 month to 2 years.

These broad numbers, however, fail to convey the depth of commitment to and the complex arrangements associated with breastfeeding for many of these women, even for those who breastfed for a relatively short time. Despite—or even because of—the challenges associated with breastfeeding, it served both as the context for and as a set of practices through which an ideal of motherhood could be expressed. Many of the women we interviewed encountered significant challenges with breastfeeding, including insufficient milk supply, difficulty getting the baby to latch properly, pain during breastfeeding, or, later, the need to integrate breastfeeding with employment. For example, Li Xiaomei, a year-old mother interviewee 4a of an 8-month-old baby described an intense struggle to provide her son with breast milk, a struggle that ended after 5 months of pain, exhaustion, and stress.

By 20 days, her baby was clearly hungry and her breasts no longer seemed to be filling with milk. In a surprising twist, critical advice came from a male colleague whose daughter had also suffered from allergies. He advised her to stop breastfeeding directly and rely instead on a breast pump, a process that she described as exhausting due to the length of time an hour per session she required to pump even a small amount of milk. She described the situation as leaving her depressed xintai hen bu.

When she stopped pumping and switched to a special formula designed for babies with allergies, at 5 months, she had managed to store an astonishing 60, ml bags of frozen breast milk, allowing for a gradual transition to formula. Zhang Fei interviewee 9a , described at the beginning of the paper, had given birth to her baby prematurely, at 33 weeks gestation, and so, she had used a breast pump to bring in her milk supply. She was still pumping breast milk when her baby was 11 months old, though she was gradually shifting to infant formula. Wang Ping interviewee 8a struggled to nurse her baby after a C-section, despite ample milk supply and the use of a lactation consultant kai nai shi , relying in the end upon a breast pump for many months.

Others described expressing milk during the workday, sometimes in the comfort of a designated space but for others, in washrooms or behind a curtain. At the same time, the use of a pump required women select and purchase a pump and its accessories foreign pumps, storage bags, and other equipment were overwhelmingly favored and master both knowledge and technique on proper storage techniques including how long breast milk could be preserved and at what temperatures. The decision to pump was therefore a mixture of daily practice, abstract consumer and technical knowledge, and cultural investments in how to best mother a baby.

While for many women, the return to work marked the end of breastfeeding given the difficulties logistic or interpersonal of pumping at work; for others, the commitment to continue breastfeeding was a badge of honor. Footnote 7 For example, Xu Huifang interviewee 1a , the mother of a month-old baby, described expressing milk with a hand-pump twice a day while at work, a process that left her hand numb. Despite being encouraged by her own mother to wean the baby early to avoid this discomfort, she was committed jianchi, jianchi and confessed that she felt guilty about her plans to wean her baby at 1 year of age. Breastfeeding was valued for many different reasons, including for its nutritional value and immunity-boosting qualities, for food safety reasons, and for its capacity to promote emotional bonding between mother and baby.

There was also a lot of variation in terms of which rationales mothers drew upon in justifying their own breastfeeding, how they interpreted those rationales, and how they combined them. Many women spoke as well about better immunity in breastfed babies, often offering anecdotes comparing babies who got sick more easily formula fed or breastfed for short times with more robust babies breastfed for longer. In all these examples, rationales for breastfeeding rest upon cultural notions about what parents, and mothers in particular, owe their children.

Of course, for some women, food safety concerns, and in particular, the possibility of purchasing contaminated or substandard infant formula in China, provided a strong incentive to breastfeed for as long as possible, or at least until a safe source of infant formula could be secured. Liu Lihua interviewee 24a , for example, described her problem not in terms of whether or not to breastfeed but rather when to wean. Because of her concerns about domestic infant formula, she waited to wean her baby until she had secured what she considered a reliable source of safe, foreign infant formula see also Hanser and Li Nevertheless, the vast majority of women we interviewed still had or planned to eventually turn to infant formula to feed their infants.

Such interpretations of breastfeeding likely reflect the greater expectations of emotional availability demanded of Chinese mothers today Kuan ; Evans Ideas about the importance of breastfeeding, and how women viewed its relationship to their role as mother, were not considered in isolation. Partly, for this reason, decisions about whether to breastfeed, how, why, and for how long, could be openly debated and provided a context in which contested ideas about mothers and babies, and the contradictory pressures that women experienced in their lives, might be expressed. For instance, Jiang Yunzhen interviewee 2b described the first month after childbirth as painful because she initiated breastfeeding under the disciplining gaze of her family members and especially her mother-in-law.

If the amount seemed to decrease, Jiang Yunzhen would then be asked to eat a special soup to boost her supply. Yet, in the same interview, this mother offered a different model for performing the motherly role, which was instead expressed through consumption. Sometimes, negotiations over breastfeeding were with other forms of authority, like yue sao , postpartum doulas or support persons that some families hire to assist in the home in the first week after childbirth, during the traditional confinement period zuo yuezi for a new mother.

For example, Li Qiao interviewee 5b initially had difficulty producing sufficient breast milk for her baby. Her yue sao pressured her to supplement with infant formula, but Li Qiao was committed to exclusive breastfeeding. However, one day after she breastfed her son, she tried to offer him some frozen breast milk given to her by a close friend. To her surprise, her son drank it up quickly and satisfyingly. Footnote 9. Similarly, Wang Jing interviewee 53b felt judged by her yue sao , in this case, not for inadequate milk supply but for inadequate milk.

Her yue sao suggested switching to infant formula, and when she did, the symptom immediately disappeared. She felt very discouraged shou cuo because she was committed to breastfeeding and so was unwilling to supplement infant formula. The majority of mothers we interviewed seemed to readily embrace the idea that breastfeeding was an important—if certainly not the only—way to perform good motherhood. For example, many women timed weaning to coincide with their return to employment, feeling that pumping at work was inconvenient, embarrassing, or simply unnecessary.

Even mothers committed to the bei nai zu regimen of workplace pumping found these arrangements challenging. Wu Fang interviewee 3a , committed to nursing her child for the full, WHO-recommended 2 years, described the embarrassment of conferring with male superiors before pumping, which she had to perform by going to the back of the room and drawing a curtain for privacy. Song Dachun interviewee 6a attempted to extend her nursing period past her return to work, but she felt pumping at work was too inconvenient and so tried returning home during her lunch break to nurse her baby, an arrangement she quickly found onerous.

Interestingly, this mother was also distrustful of the nutritional value of stored breast milk, making pumping at work of questionable worth in her mind. In all these cases, the value of breast milk came up against the hard edge of workplace demands. The gender inequality that has made caring for infants such an intensely demanding responsibility for middle-class Chinese women was reflected in the ambivalence some women expressed about how breastfeeding affected their bodies. As with the conflict between intensive mothering and the workplace, the tension between a mother whose body is devoted to her child and a woman whose body is pleasing to men was felt keenly by some women we interviewed.

Despite these tensions, it was rare for women we interviewed to directly challenge the value of breastfeeding. This may in part be an effect of the interview encounter itself Pugh , in which women are likely to present themselves as good mothers who uphold widely held standards. A rare exception was Zheng Ting interviewee 11a , who explained that she never really wanted to breastfeed at all, and only began doing so because her milk came in. And yet, this woman used a breast pump for 4 months, despite damaged, bleeding nipples, and her aversion to nursing. Her interview is filled with contradictions like these: She insisted that she did not want to breastfeed and she was not pressured to nurse, and yet, her family was united against her in support of breastfeeding.

Her case illustrates the powerful ways in which a particularly intensive ideological construction of motherhood has wed with class position and the specific practice of breastfeeding to shape the infant-feeding practices of even strongly resistant middle-class mothers. In fact, the commitment to breastfeeding was often succeeded by a parallel and equally intense commitment to providing babies with safe—foreign—infant formula. Many of the women we interviewed believed that it was perfectly fine to feed babies infant formula, and in some cases, they suggested that at a certain age such as 6 months old , formula might actually provide nutrients absent in breast milk. In a number of cases, a shift to formula followed committed efforts to breastfeed, but also involved a reinterpretation of the relationship between breast milk and being a good mother.

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