Abstract: WITHDRAWN: Breastfeeding and Intimate Partner Violence: A Quantitative and Qualitative Approach to Examining How IPV Impacts Breastfeeding (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

WITHDRAWN: Breastfeeding and Intimate Partner Violence: A Quantitative and Qualitative Approach to Examining How IPV Impacts Breastfeeding

Friday, January 18, 2019: 3:30 PM
Union Square 15 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Heather Bomsta, MA, Graduate Research Assistant, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Intimate partner violence (IPV) affects nearly one in four US women in their lifetime. IPV occurs across women’s life spans, from dating violence among youth and into the elder years. Prenatal violence, defined as physical violence toward a pregnant woman, is estimated to effect an estimated 3% of pregnant women. Given that violence occurs prior to and during pregnancy, it makes sense to theorize that violence and coercion continue during the breastfeeding period, but little is known about the conjunction of IPV and breastfeeding.

As of 2016, breastfeeding initiation rates have grown to more than 80% in the US, and rates of IPV have not significantly changed – meaning more American women are finding themselves breastfeeding while living in an abusive or coercive relationship. More information is needed to understand how violence and coercion may change during breastfeeding, and how it may affect breastfeeding. Current knowledge gaps leave service providers, health practitioners and policy makers poorly positioned to help these mothers.

This study uses nationwide quantitative data from the CDC to begin to understand the statistical impact of IPV on breastfeeding initiation rates and at four weeks post-partum. Qualitative, semi-structured interviews with mothers recruited through IPV service agencies are then used to illuminate the breastfeeding-characteristics of IPV and its impacts on mothers and their feeding choices. Participants are mothers over the age of 18, who have sought help from an IPV service agency, have an infant under one year of age and breastfed that infant for some period of time while living with an abusive/coercive partner.

Initial results show that typical IPV patterns of abuse continue unabated during the breastfeeding period. Breastfeeding-specific patterns of abuse also emerge, where abusers continue typical IPV patterns incorporating breastfeeding; such breastfeeding-specific abuse includes: shaming mothers when breastfeeding is challenging, using breastfeeding as a way to isolate women, interfering with pumped milk to limit women’s time away from babies, controlling how, where and when women breastfeed, sexualizing breastfeeding and accusing women of promiscuity for breastfeeding in public, and using male privilege to avoid sharing child and home-related tasks.

As breastfeeding rates rise nationwide and hospitals and other health/social service providers emphasize its benefits, women living with violence and coercion may find themselves pressed to manage both a chaotic, violent/coercive relationship and a breastfeeding relationship with their newborn. Health and social service providers need to build compassionate systems that provide supportive services and resources for mothers who may be looking to safely exit abusive relationships, as well as building understanding and resources for mothers who have not (yet) chosen to leave. Implications for practitioners, policy and future research will be discussed.