In 2004/2005 Frank Furedi and Ellie Lee of SSPSSR at the University of Kent conducted a piece of research about women’s experience of feeding their young babies, focussing in particular on mothers who formula-feed. This study sought to build upon developments outlined and discussed by Frank in his 2002 book Paranoid Parenting , and by Ellie in her Abortion, Motherhood and Mental Health: medicalizing reproduction in the United States and Great Britain published in 2003.
This study identified a widespread experience of ambivalence and lack of confidence associated with feeding babies. Women who formula feed in particular reported this experience, recounting an experience of relief and pleasure at finding a feeding method that addressed often unexpected tensions and difficulties, but at the same time speaking of guilt, anxiety, worry and uncertainty. Overall, the study seemed to point to the way that how women feed their babies has become powerfully bound up with their identity as mothers: the choices women make in this area of childrearing have become a measure of motherhood. (A summary of the findings can be found here http://www.kent.ac.uk/sspssr/staff/academic/lee/infant-formula-summary.pdf.
The discussion generated by this study seemed to confirm that maternal experience in this area is only one part of a wider experience of ambivalence and uncertainty now associated with child rearing. In particular, it also pointed to the continuing relevance of the concept of ‘intensive motherhood’ developed in the 1990s by the American sociologist Sharon Hays, to capture the nature of contemporary parenting culture, and how it shapes identity. In this light, we thought it made sense to set up an event that could give us the opportunity to discuss these issues with other researchers whose work we admire and who are engaged in investigating similar themes and issues.
We hope that the event can provide a genuine forum for open-ended discussion and debate about the nature of parental experience today. We also hope that it can form the start of an on-going process of networking and development of ideas that critically interrogate this important social problem.
Ellie Lee and Frank Furedi, February 2007
We would like to thank Glenys Harrison, Jane Dennett, Judy Lee, Sam Osborne and Paul Glover in SSPSSR at the University of Kent for their help with organising this event. We would also like to thank The Infant and Dietetic Foods Association (IDFA) for making a contribution to covering staff costs.