‘It Depends What You Mean by Feeding “on Demand”’: Mothers’ Accounts of Babies’ Agency in Infant-Feeding Relationships

Part of the Studies in Childhood and Youth book series (SCY)


This chapter focuses on how mothers construct, understand, and accommodate, their babies’ agency within feeding relationships. In particular, it explores mothers’ responses to feeding cues in early infancy and the implications of babies’ agency in everyday consumption routines. To this end, we discuss findings from our analysis of interviews conducted during 2006–2008 with 60 mothers from a variety of social and family backgrounds living in a large city in the north of England, some of whom were also managing diabetes or were ‘obese’. Half of our participants were established mothers,1 whilst the remainder, who were recruited in late pregnancy and followed through the first year of motherhood, were expecting their first baby.


Infant Feeding Millennium Cohort Study Public Health Nutrition Infantile Colic Inadequate Food Intake 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alanen, L. (1994). ‘Gender and generation: Feminism and the “child question”’, in Qvortrup, J., Bardy, M., Sgritta, G. & Wintersberger, H. (eds), Childhood Matters: Social Theory, Practice and Politics. Aldershot: Avebury Press.Google Scholar
  2. Amir, L. H. & Donath, S. (2007). ‘A systematic review of maternal obesity and breastfeeding intention, initiation and duration’. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 7(9).Google Scholar
  3. Apple, R. D. (1995). ‘Constructing mothers: Scientific motherhood in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’. Social History of Medicine 8(2): 161–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ariés, P. (1962). Centuries of Childhood. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  5. Arnup, K. (1990). ‘Educating mothers: Government advice for women in the inter-war years’, in Arnup, K., Levesque, A. & Roach Pierson, R. (eds), Delivering Motherhood: Maternal Ideologies and Practices in the 19th and 20th Centuries (pp. 190–210). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Beck, U. & Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2002). The Normal Chaos of Love. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  7. Blum, L. M. (2000). At the Breast: Ideologies of Breastfeeding and Motherhood in Contemporary United States. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bolling, K., Grant, C., Hamlyn, B. & Thornton, A. (2007). Infant-Feeding Survey 2005. London: The Information Centre.Google Scholar
  9. Bowlby, J. (1951). Maternal Care and Mental Health. Geneva: World Health Organisation.Google Scholar
  10. Carter, P. (1995). Feminism, Breasts and Breastfeeding. Basingstoke: Macmillan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. CEMACH (2005). Pregnancy in Women with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. London: CEMACH.Google Scholar
  12. CEMACH (2007). Diabetes in Pregnancy: Caring for the Baby after Birth. London: CEMACH.Google Scholar
  13. Christiansen, P. & James, A. (eds) (2000). Research with Children: Perspectives and Practices. London: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  14. Corsaro, W. (2005). The Sociology of Childhood. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.Google Scholar
  15. Cunningham, H. (1991). The Children of the Poor: Representations of Childhood since the Seventeenth Century. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  16. Cunningham, H. (1995). Children and Childhood in Western Society since 1500. Harlow: Longman.Google Scholar
  17. Department of Health (2007). ‘Birth to Five’. London: Crown Copyright. Available at: (accessed 13/10/2008).Google Scholar
  18. DeVault, M. (1991). Feeding the Family: The Social Organisation of Caring as Gendered Work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  19. Dykes, F. (2005). ‘“Supply” and “Demand”: Breastfeeding as Labour’. Social Science & Medicine 60: 2283–2293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Everingham, C. (1994). Motherhood and Modernity. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Fewtrell, M. S. (2004). ‘The long-term benefits of having been breastfed’. Current Paediatrics 14(2): 97–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gordon, L. (1982). ‘Why nineteenth-century feminists did not support “birth control” and twentieth-century feminists do: Feminism, reproduction and the family’, in Thorne, B. & Yalom, M. (eds), Rethinking the Family: Some Feminist Questions. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  23. Hamlyn, B., Brooker, S., Oleninikova, K. & Wands, S. (2002). Infant Feeding Survey 2000. London: The Stationery Office.Google Scholar
  24. Hawkins, S. S., Griffiths, L. J., Dezateux, C. & Law, C. (2007). ‘The impact of maternal employment on breast-feeding duration in the UK Millennium Cohort Study’. Public Health Nutrition 10(9): 891–896.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hays, S. (1996). The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Holloway, S. & Valentine, G. (eds) (2000) Children’s Geographies: Playing, Living, Learning. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Howie, P. W., Forsyth, S. J., Ogston, S. A., Clark, A. & du V Florey, C. (1990). ‘Protective effect of breastfeeding against infection’. British Medical Journal 318: 30–34.Google Scholar
  28. Hummel, S., Winkler, C., Schoen, S., Knopff, A., Marienfeld, S., Bonifacio, E. & Ziegler, A. G. (2007). ‘Breastfeeding habits in families with Type 1 diabetes’. Diabetic Medicine 24(6): 671–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jenks, C. (1996). Childhood. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Jones, T. (2007). Breastfeeding in Sheffield: 2006 Statistical Report Public Health Analysis Team. Available at: (accessed 2/6/08).
  31. Kelly, Y. J. & Watt, R. G. (2005). ‘Breast-feeding initiation and exclusive duration at 6 months by social class. Results from the Millennium Cohort Study’. Public Health Nutrition 8(4): 417–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Labbok, M. (2001). ‘Effects of breastfeeding on the mother’. Paediatric Clinics of North America 48(1): 413–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lawler, S. (1999). ‘Children need but mothers only want: The power of “needs talk” in the constitution of childhood’, in Seymour, J. & Bagguley, P. (eds), Relating Intimacies: Power and Resistance (pp. 64–99). Basingstoke: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lawler, S. (2000). Mothering the Self: Mothers, Daughters, Subjects. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  35. Maher, V. (1992). Anthropology of Breastfeeding. London: Berg.Google Scholar
  36. Mahoney, M. A. & Yngvesson, B. (1992). ‘The construction of subjectivity and the paradox of resistance: Reintegrating feminist anthropology and psychology’. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 18(1): 44–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Marshall, J. L., Godfrey, M. & Renfrew, M. J. (2007). ‘Being a “good mother”: Managing breastfeeding and merging identities’. Social Science and Medicine 65: 2147–2159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mason, J. (1996). ‘Gender, care and sensibility in family and kin relationships’, in Holland, J. & Adkins, L. (eds), Sex, Sensibility and the Gendered Body. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  39. Mayall, B. (2002). Towards a Sociology for Childhood: Thinking from Children’s Lives. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Miller, T. (2005). Making Sense of Motherhood: A Narrative Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Murcott, A. (1993). ‘Purity and pollution: Body management and the social place of infancy’, in Morgan, D. & Scott, S. (eds), Body Matters: Essays on the Sociology of the Body (pp. 122–134). London: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  42. Murphy, E. (1999). ‘“Breast is best”: Infant feeding and maternal deviance’. Sociology of Health and Illness 21(2): 187–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Murphy, E., Parker, S. & Phipps, C. (1998). ‘Competing agendas in infant feeding’. British Food Journal 100(3): 128–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Murphy, E. A. (2007). ‘Images of childhood in mothers’ accounts of contemporary childrearing’. Childhood 14: 105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. NICE (2006). Obesity. Guidance on the prevention, identification, assessment and management of overweight and obesity in adults and children. Clinical Guideline 43. London: National Institute of Clinical Excellence. Available at: (accessed 07/4/08).Google Scholar
  46. Oakley, A. (1979). Becoming a Mother. Oxford: Martin Robertson.Google Scholar
  47. Palmer, G. (1993). The Politics of Breastfeeding. London: Pandora Press.Google Scholar
  48. Poirier-Solomon, L. (2002). ‘A balancing act: Managing motherhood and diabetes’. Diabetes Forecast 55(11): 46–47.Google Scholar
  49. Prout, A. & James, A. (1990). ‘A new paradigm for the sociology of childhood? Provenance, promise and problems’, in James, A. & Prout, A. (eds), Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood. London: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  50. Rasmussen, B., O’Connell, B., Dunning, P. & Cox, H. (2007). ‘Young women with type 1 diabetes management of turning points and transitions’. Qualitative Health Research 17(3): 300–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Ribbens McCarthy, J., Edwards, R. & Gillies, V. (2000). Parenting and Step-Parenting: Contemporary Moral Tales, Occasional Paper 4. Oxford: Centre for Family and Household Research, Oxford Brookes University.Google Scholar
  52. Rose, N. & Miller, P. (1992). ‘Political power beyond the state: Problematics of government’. British Journal of Sociology 43(2): 173–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Stern, D. N. (1974). ‘Mother and infant at play: The dyadic involving facial, vocal, and gaze behaviors’, in Lewis, M. & Rosenblum, L. A. (eds), The Effect of the Infant on Its Caregiver. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  54. Stone, L. (1977). The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500–1800. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson.Google Scholar
  55. Trevarthen, C. (1993). ‘The functions of emotions in early infant communication and development’, in Nadel, J. & Camaori, L. (eds), New Perspectives on Early Communicative Behaviour. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  56. Thompson, R., Kehily, M. J., Hadfield, L. & Sharpe, S. (2008). The Making of Modern Motherhood: Memories, Representations, Practices. Project Report, July, 2008. The Open University. Available at: (accessed 1/10/08).
  57. Urwin, C. (1985). ‘Constructing motherhood: The persuasion of normal development’, in Steedman, C. Unwin, C. & Walkerdine, V. (eds), Language, Gender and Childhood (pp. 164–202). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  58. Valentine, G. (1997). ‘“My Son’s a Bit Dizzy. My Wife’s a Bit Soft”: Gender, children and cultures of parenting’. Gender, Place and Culture 4(1): 37–62.Google Scholar
  59. Van Esterik, P. (1989). Mother Power and Infant Feeding. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  60. Wade, A. (2005). Continuity and Change in Parent-Child Relations over Three Generations. University of Leeds (ESRC Research Grant No: R000239523).Google Scholar
  61. Walker, R., Ashworth, K., Kellard, K., Middlestone, S., Peaker, A. & Thomas, M. (1994). ‘Pretty, pretty please — just like a parrot: Persuasion strategies used by children and young people’, in Middlestone, S., Ashworth, K. & Walker, R. (eds), Family Fortunes. London: Child Poverty Action Group.Google Scholar
  62. Wall, G. (2001). ‘Moral constructions of motherhood in breastfeeding discourse’. Gender & Society 15(4): 592–610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wild, S., Rogli, G., Green, A., Sicree, R. & King, H. (2004). ‘Global prevalence of diabetes estimates for the year 2000 and projections for 2030’. Diabetes Care 27: 1047–1053.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wilson, A. C., Forsyth, J. S., Greene, S. A., Irvine, L., Hau, C. & Howie, W. P. (1998). ‘Relation of infant diet to childhood health: Seven year follow up of cohort of children in Dundee infant feeding study’. British Medical Journal 316: 21–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Winnicott, D. W. (1950). The Family and Individual Development. London: Tavistock.Google Scholar
  66. Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock.Google Scholar
  67. WHO (2001). Infant and Young Child Nutrition. The Fifty-fourth World Health Assembly, WHA54.2. Available at: (accessed 3/5/08).
  68. WHO & UNICEF (2003). Global strategy for infant and young child feeding. Geneva. Available at:
  69. Yngve, A. & Sjöström, M. (2001). ‘Breastfeeding in countries of the European Union and EFTA: Current and proposed recommendations, rationale, prevalence, duration and trends’. Public Health Nutrition 4(2B): 631–645.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Julia Keenan, Helen Stapleton 2009

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations