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‘Surely a little discretion isn’t too difficult’? The discursive construction of discretion in users’ comments on UK newspaper articles about public breastfeeding

Kent, Alexandra; Meredith, Joanne; Budds, Kirsty


Joanne Meredith

Kirsty Budds


Objective: This paper explores how discourses of discretion are constructed in online discussions about breastfeeding in public.

Method and Measures: We analysed 4204 online newspaper comment threads from 15 UK-based publications using Discursive Psychology. We explored how discretion was constructed and mobilised to facilitate discourses of breastfeeding in public.

Results: Indiscretion was used to construct dispositional traits of mothers typically associated with sexualised, immoral female behaviour and therefore incompatible with ‘good’ motherhood. Responsibility for preventing public upset was placed on breastfeeding mothers, whilst discretion was constructed as easily achievable, and therefore a reasonable expectation. By implication, women who chose not to be discreet, were constructed as deliberately provocative, and so not entitled to claim or protest negative treatment. Notably, within our data the relevance of discretion when breastfeeding in public appeared discursively difficult to reject or challenge.

Conclusion: Our findings confirm empirically that support for public breastfeeding is constructed as contingent on mothers displaying discretion. Our analysis highlights the challenges for mothers and babies for whom breastfeeding is compromised by an unwillingness to feed in public, perhaps due to pervasive constructions of breastfeeding women as selfish, exhibitionist, inconsiderate and unfit mothers in public discourse. Finally, our findings demonstrate the practical accomplishment in everyday life of the type of constructions of breastfeeding women that have been powerfully conceptualised by previous researchers.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 12, 2023
Online Publication Date Jul 5, 2023
Publication Date Jul 5, 2023
Deposit Date Jul 4, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jul 6, 2024
Journal Psychology & Health
Print ISSN 0887-0446
Electronic ISSN 1476-8321
Publisher Taylor and Francis
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Pages 1-19
Keywords Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health, Applied Psychology, General Medicine, General Chemistry