Breastfeeding as a Custom and Not Culture

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Richard A. O’Connor Professor of Anthropology at Sewanee: The University of the South and Penny Van Esterik Professor of Anthropology at York University, Toronto developed this article from the chapter in ‘The Dance of Nurture: Embodying infant feeding”. The Journal name here is Anthropology. Today; In the article By Richard A. O’Connor and Penny Van Esterik is called “Breastfeeding as custom not culture: Cutting meaning down to size”, it is Volume 28 number 5, pages 13-16, year 2012, the author’s suggests that there are three different styles of breastfeeding that may be seen as neither culture or customary and in the end that shape the idea of breastfeeding norms. Each topic addresses on this meaning and looks into the ideas of, Breastfeeding within culture, Regional evidence and Cross-cultural regularities and how they may have impacted the way mothers feed their infants today.

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A main part of O’Conner and Esterik focus in this article is how today outlook on breastfeeding is seen as culturally constructed, but it goes far beyond that, it is something set apart from the others. When discussing customary and cultural aspects of breastfeeding one, that they are too distinct and secondly, there are various reasons that suggest otherwise. First things first, the authors assert what is within culture. This is important because they wanted to find out how is breastfeeding cultural and it brings up a lot of points breaking down the answers in systems such as; possible fertility cults, religion and medical. These are all key points, but O’Conner and Esterik argued that there is still the question of if this is one culture or three? (p.14). The further they got behind the cultural meaning of breastfeeding the more the answers start to reveal itself that it’s forever and open issue.

Moving forward, O’Connor and Esterik took the piece of culture and traced comparisons of customs to it in three different regions and women; Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America. The authors saw that custom was a section apart from culture greatly starting with Thai & Malay women and their patterns. Each regions discussed had a lot of diversity in women and the way they breastfeed, Thai women patterns in the Asia were the same with Malay patterns and they believed both patterns were very complex and bigger than anything discussed historically. In contrast they suggest that we must consider diversity has impossibly been taken as both biological and culturally explanatory and that breastfeeding historically is something well enough worked out for the long run. All in all these three diversities have their own complex of breastfeeding customs and or cultures.

Lastly, the author’s final points surround the various regularities that shape new mothers practices. Three different regularities; the postpartum period, the nurturing meaning of “mothered” and the ritualization of mother and new born baby to the outside world. Eventually breastfeeding is vulnerable, lactation fails and infants just not flourish (p.16). This begins to raise questions of if there is a problem with the way it works, six realities explains the order for women to be successful at breastfeeding. However, as mother’s the most important this is nurture, but because the customs of this mechanism separates the processing stage of breastfeeding all starts to be taken for granted. The last question O’Connor and Esterik make is that if functions of customs are actually dysfunctional or something else. They found multiple claims that supported the reasoning, and in their opinion everything that ever supported breastfeeding (i.e. customs) started to decrease before it ever began to progressively reach it potential.

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Breastfeeding as a Custom and Not Culture. (2020, November 11). WritingBros. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“Breastfeeding as a Custom and Not Culture.” WritingBros, 11 Nov. 2020,
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