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Article Review 1

Article Review One
When babies are born, it is highly recommended by the WHO (World Health
Organization) that their mothers exclusively breastfeed them for at least the first 6 months of
their lives, and then continue breastfeeding until the age of 2 years old or older. As time has gone
by, breastfeeding has become more of a moral based debate in many parts of the world. In
Icelandic countries, their breastfeeding rate is one of the highest among the Western world, and
just about every single mother exclusively breastfeeds in these countries (Símonardóttir et al.,
2018). Society places high expectations and standards when it comes to breastfeeding in
Icelandic countries, and therefore the act is seen as moral and socially normal. The researchers
chose Iceland to interview mothers because of the high presence of feminism within Iceland.
They have come a long way in equality for males and females and have included breastfeeding
as one of their movements. The researchers’ goal from their study was to see how the discourses
of mother’s in Icelandic countries who could not breastfeed their child(ren) differed from the
societal norm discourses associated with breastfeeding. They were also interested in what
counter discourses they used to back up why they do not breastfeed, as well as how things such
as feminism and shared parenting influence these counter discourses. Discourses are described as
commonly understood language-in-use that reflect social relations. On the other hand, counter
discourses are language that challenges the dominant discourse within a culture, society, etc.
Icelandic Context
Feminism and equality have come a long way within the last few years in Iceland.
Women are working harder towards higher social positions and men are being given rights to
more traditional female roles. Although times are changing for Icelandic men and women, some
things have still stayed the same, such as parenthood. One main issue is that all women are seen
as future mothers, whether they want to be or not. As mentioned previously, breastfeeding is
seen as the norm within Icelandic countries, and has even been labeled as being a good mother if
you breastfeed your child according to the WHO recommendations. Society basically expects
that all mothers should/would breastfeed their babies according to these guidelines, and those
who do not or cannot feel like they must explain themselves to their friends and family in order
to not feel ostracized.
Símonardóttir et al.’s (2018) main goal was to investigate the experiences of women in
Iceland who had trouble with breastfeeding their children. In order to get women to sign up to
talk about their experiences, the researchers posted their study to some popular Facebook groups
for mothers in Iceland, tips for mothers and breastfeeding chat. The daily newspaper also
interviewed the researchers and let them describe what their study was about, the goals of the
study, and asked women to turn in their own personal written stories about struggling with
breastfeeding in Icelandic countries. In 2015, 77 women submitted stories about their
breastfeeding failure experiences, and altogether their stories totaled up to more than 124 pages.
Since their study was qualitative, they stressed how the experiences of these women cannot be
relatable to all Icelandic mothers struggling with breastfeeding. The researchers’ main goal was
to conduct a feminist analysis to see what dominant discourses are forced upon Icelandic mothers
so they would help rebuild new ways of viewing motherhood and breastfeeding in their society.
Special attention was paid to what counter discourses the mothers used to challenge the dominant
ones, as well as to settle the dispute that they are still good mothers despite not being able to
Challenges, opposition and counter-discourses on breastfeeding
All of the mothers in this study wanted to breastfeed, but each experienced difficulties
with doing so such as mastitis, yeast infections, or pain. One main discourse on breastfeeding is
that it offers quite a bit of health benefits for the baby and that those who do not get breastfed
during their first 6 months of life are less advantaged from the beginning. The women in this
study do not challenge this belief directly, but their lived experiences explain that their children
who were no exclusively breastfed during that same time period have still turned out perfectly
healthy and happy. Another common benefit of breastfeeding is that the babies who were
breastfed will be more intelligent in the long run. This belief causes mothers who cannot
breastfeed in Iceland to fear that their child will be considered as less than. For the mothers who
did not breastfeed, having a healthy and smart child helped relieve some of the fear and pressure
they experienced for not breastfeeding because they see that no harm has been done.
Another popular discourse in Iceland is that breastfeeding is the primary way to bond
with your child. Multiple women in this study rejected this idea by explaining how struggling to
breastfeed their child actually negatively affected their mental health. Several of the women even
linked the pressure to breastfeed with postpartum depression. One mother stated that she finally
learned that her own mental health was more important than worrying about how her child
receives their food (breastmilk or formula). These mothers challenged this dominant discourse
by stating that new mothers are in very emotional states after birth which should be kept in check
in order for them to bond with their child. The mothers who expressed a deep unhappiness with
breastfeeding also stated how it is important to talk about how they feel with others and not be
ashamed by it. It is common for mothers who cannot breastfeed to experience feelings of guilt,
shame, or failure because they have to feed their child formula milk. For the Icelandic mothers in
this study though, they experienced relief when they gave up on breastfeeding and switched to
formula. Trying to breastfeed was tough for these women, so when their child could finally
receive nutrients from the formula, the mothers felt relieved.
The last discourse Símonardóttir et al. investigated was shared parenting. Formula
feeding could be seen as a win for shared parenting roles because it would allow the fathers to
experience bonding with the new baby as well and share the task of feeding. Many of the women
mentioned that it was their spouses who suggested that the women give up on breastfeeding and
switch to formula, but very few of them mentioned that formula feeding allowed the father to
share responsibilities. They seemed happy to let the dads assist with feeding, but in their stories,
it was still evident that they felt solely responsible for feeding their child.
Opposing dominant discourses in a society can be quite the challenge, but the women in
this study gave real life counter-discourses against the main beliefs expressed about
breastfeeding in Iceland. Breastfeeding is seen as a social norm and is presented as more of an
obligation rather than a choice to be made by mothers. The women in this study never challenged
the belief that everyone should breastfeed, instead they discussed counter discourses as to
society’s negative view of babies who are not breastfed and mothers who do not breastfeed.
These women argued against the universality of breastfeeding benefits by sharing stories of their
formula fed child still being healthy and happy compared to children who were breastfed. They
also refuted the belief that breastfeeding is the main way to bond with your baby by sharing their
struggles and pain with breastfeeding and how that affected their mental health and bonding with
their child. The overall results from this experiment showed that the women who could not
breastfeed resisted and contested the dominant discourses in Iceland by sharing their experiences
of formula feeding and how their child is still alive and well. Although gender equality and
feminism are rising within Iceland, the researchers were surprised when none of the women used
feminist rhetoric to refute the dominant discourses on breastfeeding. The women still believed
feeding the baby was the mother’s main job, and only mentioned how not being able to
breastfeed affected them without mentioning that formula feeding is a good opportunity for dads
to take part in shared parental responsibilities.
Símonardóttir, S., & Gíslason, I. V. (2018). When breast is not best: Opposing dominant
discourses on breastfeeding. The Sociological Review, 66(3), 665–
681. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038026117751342