Men and Infant Feeding: Perceptions of Embarrassment, Sexuality, and Social Conduct in White Low-Income British Men

Authors

  • Lesley Henderson BA, PhD, PGCLTHE,

    1. Lesley Henderson is a Senior Lecturer, Sociology & Communications, School of Social Sciences, Brunel University, West London; Brian McMillan is a Visiting Research Fellow in the Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds; Josephine M. Green is a Professor of Psychosocial Reproductive Health in the Mother & Infant Research Unit, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York; and Mary J. Renfrew is a Professor of Mother & Infant Health and Director of the Mother & Infant Research Unit, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, United Kingdom.
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  • Brian McMillan BSSc, PhD, CSci, CPsychol,

    1. Lesley Henderson is a Senior Lecturer, Sociology & Communications, School of Social Sciences, Brunel University, West London; Brian McMillan is a Visiting Research Fellow in the Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds; Josephine M. Green is a Professor of Psychosocial Reproductive Health in the Mother & Infant Research Unit, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York; and Mary J. Renfrew is a Professor of Mother & Infant Health and Director of the Mother & Infant Research Unit, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, United Kingdom.
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  • Josephine M. Green BA (Hons), PhD, AFBPsS, CPsychol,

    1. Lesley Henderson is a Senior Lecturer, Sociology & Communications, School of Social Sciences, Brunel University, West London; Brian McMillan is a Visiting Research Fellow in the Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds; Josephine M. Green is a Professor of Psychosocial Reproductive Health in the Mother & Infant Research Unit, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York; and Mary J. Renfrew is a Professor of Mother & Infant Health and Director of the Mother & Infant Research Unit, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, United Kingdom.
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  • Mary J. Renfrew BSc, PhD, RGN, SCM

    1. Lesley Henderson is a Senior Lecturer, Sociology & Communications, School of Social Sciences, Brunel University, West London; Brian McMillan is a Visiting Research Fellow in the Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds; Josephine M. Green is a Professor of Psychosocial Reproductive Health in the Mother & Infant Research Unit, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York; and Mary J. Renfrew is a Professor of Mother & Infant Health and Director of the Mother & Infant Research Unit, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, United Kingdom.
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  • The study “Infant feeding in the Media: An Analysis of Representation and Influence” was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant no.: R000222785), Swindon, England. The “Looking at Infant Feeding Today” (LIFT) study was funded by the Department of Health, London, England. The views expressed in this publication are those of the present authors and not necessarily those of the Department of Health.

Address correspondence to Lesley Henderson, BA, PhD, PGCLTHE, Department of Sociology and Communications, School of Social Sciences, Brunel University, Cleveland Road, Uxbridge, West London UB8 3PH, UK.

Abstract:

Background:  The views of fathers have been shown to be important determinants of infant feeding decisions, but men’s perceptions of breastfeeding and formula feeding are rarely explored. Our objectives were to address this gap and examine cultural associations and beliefs concerning infant feeding practices among men.

Methods:  Five focus groups were conducted with low-income men (= 28) living in areas of social deprivation in Leeds, northeast of England, and low-income areas of Glasgow, west of Scotland. Participants were white British men, aged between 16 and 45 years, and included fathers, expectant fathers, and potential fathers.

Results:  Overarching themes concerning sexuality, embarrassment, and social conduct were identified across all groups. Participants perceived breastfeeding as “natural” but problematic, whereas formula feeding was mainly considered as convenient and safe. Participants without direct experience of breastfeeding assumed that it involved excessive public exposure and attracted unwanted male attention. Underpinning these fears were strong cultural associations between breasts and sexuality and anxieties concerning appropriate gender roles.

Conclusions:  In some communities few opportunities may occur to witness breastfeeding, and thus existing fears concerning the activity as attracting predatory male attention remain unchallenged. Perceptions of breastfeeding as a sexual activity and the dominant mass media emphasis on breasts as a sexual site may present additional obstacles to breastfeeding. Antenatal or perinatal education with men should address not only practical issues but also provide advice on tackling problems generated by wider sociocultural issues of sexuality and masculinity. (BIRTH 38:1 March 2011)

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