"Giving guilt the flick"? an investigation of mothers' talk about guilt in relation to infant feeding

Kate Williams, Ngaire Donaghue, Tim Kurz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (SciVal)


Manuals offering advice to new parents on the topic of infant feeding have recently begun to attend to the possible implications of pro-breast-feeding discourses for mothers' subjective experiences, particularly with respect to guilt. In this article, we present a discursive analysis of focus groups with 35 Australian mothers in which we examine how mothers discuss their infant-feeding practices and their related subjective experiences. We focus on how the mothers draw upon notions of "guilt," "choice," and "emotional self-control" to attend to the possibility of moral judgment over their infant-feeding practices. We highlight a construction of choice that dramatically restricts permissible reasons for not breast-feeding one's infant and a pervasive view that guilt is a natural and appropriate response for "good" mothers who do not breast-feed. We argue that the incorporation of advice to mothers that they should "not feel guilty" is unrealistic in a context in which breast-feeding is so heavily advocated and that, rather than providing relief or comfort, this advice can create an additional burden for mothers who do not breast-feed. Finally, we reflect upon the implications of our findings in relation to the provision of public health information to women making choices around how to feed their infants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-112
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology of Women Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • breast-feeding
  • child-rearing practices
  • choice
  • emotional control
  • expert discourse
  • guilt
  • mothers


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