Nourishment for body and soul: Exploring British Muslim mothers’ accounts of breastfeeding
De Montfort University
De Montfort University
There is currently very limited research into the lived experience of breastfeeding within specific British minority ethnic groups. This paper presents the findings of a recent study which aimed to explore breastfeeding experiences amongst British-born Muslim mothers.
Design and methods:
Six breastfeeding mothers between the ages of 32 and 42, who had infants less than 12 months of age, took part in the study and were interviewed in their own homes. All women self-identified as practising Muslims and attended a mosque regularly. Data were transcribed in full and analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis.
Participants were well informed of the health benefits of breastfeeding to mother and infant. However, issues of faith were also central to the participants’ construction of breastfeeding. References to breastfeeding in the Qur’an and in hadith were highly influential in women’s meaning making in regard to breastfeeding and in their motivation to succeed. Breast milk was characterised in a number of complex ways by the women and was seen to not only transmit nutrients and natural defences to the infant but also moral and psychological ‘goodness’. Breastfeeding was performed as an act of faith and devotion by the mother through which the infant was physically, psychologically and spiritually nourished. The day-to-day promotion and management of breastfeeding was negotiated through a combination of indigenous and culturally specific customs and Western medical treatments. Participants followed special diets to promote milk production but primarily used prescribed medications to manage pain and related symptoms. The issue of maintaining modesty was of particular importance to the women, especially outside of the home environment.
The way in which these women interpreted and practiced breastfeeding was informed through a synthesis of Islamic and Western medical health systems which, although quite different ideologically, seemed to work in a synergetic fashion. Issues of reflexivity and cultural sensitivity in undertaking research in this area and the implications of the findings for both psychologists and other practitioners working within this cultural context are also discussed.