UBC Faculty Research and Publications

The hard work of feeding the baby: breastfeeding and intensive mothering in contemporary urban China Hanser, Amy; Li, Jialin


Drawing upon the concept of culture as a “tool kit” from which social actors draw pragmatically, this paper explores the relationship between cultural definitions of good mothering and breastfeeding among middle-class, urban Chinese women. We argue that an emerging culture of “intensive mothering” that focuses on infant feeding is taking shape among privileged urban women. Based upon interviews with new mothers in urban Shanghai, we describe the intense efforts and commitment by these women to provide their babies with breast milk, and we consider the complexities of their attempts to put mothering ideals into practice. We suggest that the linkage between breastfeeding and motherhood represents a “gendered burden” for Chinese women and that infant feeding has become important, early terrain on which new mothers grapple with their own and others’ expectations about mothering and caring for a child. We show that intensive, demanding forms of parenting now extend into the earliest years of a child’s life, a period largely neglected in sociological studies of parenting in China.

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)