When breast is not best: Opposing dominant discourses on breastfeeding

Sunna Símonardóttir*, Ingólfur V. Gíslason

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Dominant discourses on breastfeeding as the optimal feeding method for infants and a way for mother and child to develop a strong bond are widely promoted and the message of ‘breast is best’ has been internalized by mothers around the world. Breastfeeding rates in Iceland and the other Nordic countries are among the highest in the world and the cultural and societal expectations for women to successfully breastfeed are therefore very high, as breastfeeding represents a strong moral and social norm. Iceland is considered a model for gender equality and feminism and this article thus examines the experiences of women who have struggled with breastfeeding, in a context which strongly promotes both breastfeeding and gender equality. By analysing the narratives of 77 Icelandic women, this article extends theorizing about rhetorical agency and resistance by demonstrating how they oppose and challenge dominant discourses on breastfeeding and good mothering and what counter-discourses they draw upon in order to make sense of their experiences. The findings indicate that feminism and feminist rhetoric have been unsuccessful in addressing and providing women with counter-discourses that challenge the highly gendered and oppressive elements of infant feeding and its link to idealized versions of motherhood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)665-681
Number of pages17
JournalSociological Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The doctoral research project from which this article is drawn was funded by the Icelandic Research fund (141617-052) and the Governmental Gender Research Fund.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.

Other keywords

  • Bottle-feeding
  • Breastfeeding
  • Discourse
  • Feminism
  • Motherhood
  • Parenting
  • Resistance


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