Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Sandra P. Thomas

Committee Members

Sadie Hutson, Carole R. Myers, Howard R. Pollio



The purpose of this study was to describe the experience of employed breastfeeding mothers. Using a phenomenological approach based on the works of Merleau-Ponty, the researcher completed 13 interviews in which mothers with experience working full-time while breastfeeding were asked to describe their experiences. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using a hermeneutical approach developed by Pollio and applied to nursing research by Thomas. Each interview was examined within the context of all the interviews to identify themes found throughout.

While participants’ experiences were grounded in the unsupportive world of the workplace, aspects of their experience became figural at any given moment. Participants experienced the world of the workplace both by and through their breastfeeding bodies and the world of the workplace is very much grounded in the context of time. An encompassing central theme of “there’s conflict” wove throughout the interviews as participants described the emotional, social, and physical conflicts they encountered. Three overlapping themes manifested within the encompassing theme including: (1) “As your priority, it consumes you;” (2) “At work, it is just different;” (3) “I’ve accomplished something here.” Each theme revealed a unique context of “there’s conflict. The theme “At work, it is just different” contained five interrelated subthemes: (1) “veil yourself;” (2) “if they would just let me;” (3) “not what I expected;” (4) “You have to be brave.”

This study supports previous research findings that workplace is largely unsupportive of breastfeeding mothers and that conflicts arise while trying to be both a “good” mother and a “good” employee. Using a phenomenological method, this research offers a rich understanding of the everyday realities of employed breastfeeding mothers and a new insight into the complexities of embodiment and the social and emotional conflict they experience in trying to enact their ethical identity of mother and worker.

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Included in

Nursing Commons