Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Wendy Simonds - Chair

Second Advisor

Dawn Baunach

Third Advisor

Denise Donnelly


During this unique moment of feminist inquiry wherein breastfeeding has been a focal point of interdisciplinary research, little sociological scholarship has been presented which has centered on the various meanings that African American mothers, as a diverse group, attach to their experiences with breastfeeding and/or infant formula use. While patterns of behavior have been explored in a cross-racial context, most social science studies have not focused on how the choice between breastfeeding, using infant formula, or using a combination of the two has impacted (or has been shaped by) African American mothers’ constructs of self, motherhood/mothering, their birth experiences, and their sexuality. In order to understand the interplay of the decision-making process and these constructs, I conducted a qualitative study in which I participated in face-to-face interviews with a diverse group of thirty African-American mothers. They ranged in age from 18 years-old to 50-years-old. At the time of her interview, each mother had at least one child who was three-years-old or younger. Through our discussions, we explored how pre-pregnancy perceptions, lived experiences as a mother, familial influences, and the discourses surrounding motherhood within an African-American context affected the perceptions and experiences that the mothers in the study had with their infant feeding practice(s). Findings suggest that while African Americans mothers know that “breast is best,” that knowledge is not the only reason for their decisions. The first step in understanding why African-American mothers choose the feeding method(s) that they choose is embracing the reality that choosing is an ongoing and dynamic process which is often informed by what she does versus “is supposed to do” versus how she is portrayed weighed with the consequences of her choice(s) for herself and her family. Further, African American mothers are in the active process of negotiating an evolving definition of themselves within this post-Civil Rights, Affirmative Action context wherein choices appear abundant, but the choosing always comes with a price.

Included in

Sociology Commons