Being the 'good' mother : a discursive study of breastfeeding women's experiences of accessing early childhood education in New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Psychology (Endorsement in Health Psychology) at Massey University, Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand

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A majority of women in New Zealand will attempt breastfeeding, return to employment, and access early childhood education (ECE) care within the first year of their child’s life. There is a great interest in promoting and increasing national breastfeeding rates, yet little research exploring how normative ideals of motherhood influence breastfeeding women once they return to employment. Psychological studies that explore breastfeeding and employment often locate the issue at an individual level, constructing breastfeeding as a personal ‘choice’. Such research ignores the significant influence that structural barriers and societal pressures have on breastfeeding women’s ability to freely choose an infant feeding method. This research seeks to remedy this limited focus. In the current study, I was interested in examining how discursive constructions of breastfeeding shape women’s subjectivities as mothers, and the ways in which these subjectivities enable or constrain women’s ability to breastfeed. I utilised a poststructuralist approach to highlight how women’s constructions of breastfeeding influenced their accounts of infant feeding in ECE and workplace settings. I conducted qualitative interviews with seven women living in Auckland who had experienced combining breastfeeding with employment and I applied a Foucauldian discourse analysis to make sense of the data collected. Through my analysis I discovered that the participants worked to align themselves with the subject position of ‘good’ mother. Participant’s discursive constructions of breastfeeding worked to strengthen their subjectivities as ‘good’ mothers through three primary discourses; breastfeeding as best for the child, a natural and easy part of motherhood, and a difficult journey. The subjectivity of the ‘good’ mother had significant implications for how women navigated ECE and workplace settings. Participants often placed themselves under considerable stress to ensure they continued breastfeeding, despite structural difficulties. In the workplace the ‘good’ mother had to manage disruptions caused by breastfeeding, navigate poor management, and mitigate stigma. In ECE settings women had to manage tensions between public and private spheres and deal with low structural support. Women’s ability to uphold their status as ‘good’ mother in these contexts was often dependent on the level of privilege each participant held. Western constructions of motherhood compel women to be ‘good’ mothers regardless of the strain introduced. Therefore, I argue that by unpacking women’s constructions of breastfeeding and motherhood, in relation to ECE care and employment, the negative impacts of such discourses are highlighted and avenues to address these can become apparent.
Breastfeeding, Motherhood, New Zealand, Psychological aspects, Early childhood education, Social aspects, Working mothers, Attitudes