The physical challenges of early breastfeeding
Breastfeeding rates have recently increased in the United States and Canada and a majority of women now initiate breastfeeding. Feminist scholarship on breastfeeding has addressed a variety of issues related to women's breastfeeding experiences but has tended to ignore or downplay the potentially physically challenging aspects of early breastfeeding. This study, based on semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 52 women from Canada and the United States conducted at approximately one month postpartum, examines women's experiences of pain and discomfort associated with breastfeeding. The findings demonstrate that many women experienced pain and discomfort and that they were generally surprised by the extent, intensity and duration of discomfort and pain, which ranged from mild to severe. Several women indicated that the physical impact of breastfeeding affected their relationship with their baby; others indicated that they became hesitant to continue the practice due to feelings of physical vulnerability, pain and/or discomfort. Lastly, women's experiences of the physical implications of breastfeeding were influenced in part by assistance provided by health care practitioners, in both positive and negative ways. The practice of breastfeeding has the potential to challenge women's physicality. Feminist scholars addressing the topic of breastfeeding, women's postpartum health, and embodiment must more directly and comprehensively account for the potentially negative physical implications and demands associated with early breastfeeding.