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Nourishing body and spirit: exploring British Muslim mothers’ constructions and experiences of breastfeeding

This study explored experiences and representations of breastfeeding reported by British Muslim women. Six mothers who breastfed their infants for at least 3 months were interviewed on two occasions, namely during the breastfeeding period and again once the provision of breast milk to the infant had ceased. Accounts were analysed using a social constructivist version of interpretative  phenomenological analysis. Participants utilised interwoven constructions of breastfeeding which fused Islamic and biomedical understandings. Breastfeeding was simultaneously viewed as beneficial to the child’s health and as a deeply spiritual act through which the mother’s attributes as a ‘good Muslim’ nourished the child and promoted his or her moral development. Making reference to sacred texts such as the Qur’an and Hadith, the women believed that they would be rewarded for breastfeeding by Allah, and that some past sins would be forgiven. Helping breastfeeding mothers was viewed as a collective responsibility involving family and community members. Lactation was supported by ritualised practices relating to the consumption and restriction of certain foods, whereas breastfeeding problems such as pain and infection were managed in consultation with health professionals. The importance of maintaining standards of modesty caused challenges for participants feeding in public, but the segregation of men and women in the domestic sphere when socialising, and the wearing of dress coats, such as the abayah, facilitated discrete feeding at home. It is important that those working with BritishMuslim mothers have an awareness of these constructions to ensure the provision ofhigh-quality andculturally sensitive healthcare and education in the perinatal period.Methodological issues relating to reflexivity and data collection and analysis paradigms within culturally embedded accounts of the lived experience of intimate embodied practices such as breastfeeding are also considered.

Author(s): Iain Richard Williamson, Safiya Mahomed Sacranie

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