International Breastfeeding Conference presenter sneak peek: Exploring shame and hope for breastfeeding

Our current health systems need some serious mending when it comes to providing support for mothers and babies. It’s encouraging when health officials recognize the need.

Take UK Health Minister Dr. Dan Poulter for example, who in a recent article said “there needs to be a move away from an approach that ‘picks up the pieces’ of broken families to a preventive approach from the earliest days of pregnancy to avoid mental and physical problems later in life.” [Watt, Nicholas. “Support for mothers and babies needs overhaul, says UK health minister.” theguardian11 Sept 2013, n. pag. Web. 18 Sep. 2013. <>.]

mailDr. Gill Thomson, Phd, BSc, MSc is a psychologist/researcher currently working as a Senior Research Fellow within the Maternal and Infant Nutrition and Nurture Unit (MAINN) at the University of Central Lancashire in England. She is involved in numerous projects exploring the psychosocial and cultural influences on women’s infant feeding experiences.

Maternal infant attachment and bonding has always resonated as something remarkable to Thomson. She acknowledges the significance of the postnatal period and her work within children’s homes has left her concluding that, when maternal infant connection isn’t established, it’s too late to make a difference in children’s lives.

Thomson dedicated her PhD work studying the impact of a traumatic birth on maternal psychosocial well-being and infant feeding experiences.

Common medical care generally strips women of their instincts and instead employs technology for what women do naturally, Thomson says. She is interested in the natural ways mother synchronizes with her baby and how society deconstructs that innate power, in turn affecting the way she connects with her baby.

Healthy Children Project is delighted to welcome Dr. Thomson to engage with participants at its upcoming 18th International Breastfeeding Conference. Thomson will present “Closeness and Connection in Breastfeeding: Influences and Impact.” She will provide insights into temporal, spatial, interpersonal and embodied influences on infant feeding and will discuss impact upon closeness and connection within women’s breastfeeding experiences through her empirical research findings.

While Thomson finds “harder evidence” important, she says there’s much value in hearing people’s stories.

“I love that connection and finding what is meaningful for women,” she says.

In addition, Thomson will present “Shame and Hope in Infant Feeding Experiences.” In this session, she will explore the concept of shame within infant feeding experiences.

Thomson has collected years worth of data exploring the concept of shame. Maternal shame shows up in various infant feeding experiences including mothers who breastfeed and those who don’t. Breastfeeding mothers for instance, feel shamed in a culture where breasts are purely sexualized. And women who don’t breastfeed are marginalized and made to blame, Thomson explains.

“If we value women and care about them, we must come from where they are situated and keep them in positive health,” she says, no matter their infant feeding method.

Lactation professionals play an important role in combating feelings of shame in all mothers.

“Be mindful about your language, how messages are conveyed and the negative emotions that women experience,” Thomson advises. “Respond sensitively.”

She continues that it’s important to remember that women who chose not to breastfeed still need support, perhaps the most delicate of kinds. Valuing women’s experiences and choices while practicing empathy should be one of lactation professionals’ highest concerns.

During “Shame and Hope in Infant Feeding Experiences”, Thomson will also illuminate how breastfeeding peer support can instill and facilitate hope for breastfeeding.

She is especially pleased to report that the National Health Service (NHS) has taken interest in funding breastfeeding peer support research projects.

Thomson says she hopes conference participants will walk away from her presentations inspired and able to consider women’s lives in a different way.

She also says the International Breastfeeding Conference is a brilliant opportunity to network with others of similar interests.

To learn more about Thomson’s work, click here.

Click here to register for the 18th International Breastfeeding Conference in beautiful Orlando.

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