Fluid Experts: Lactation consultants as postmodern professional specialists

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Journal Article
Health Sociology Review, 2005, 14 (2), pp. 101 - 110
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Since their accreditation as a professional specialty in 1985, lactation consultants have grown in number and prominence in maternity care. In North America and Australia, breastfeeding management is now a domain increasingly presided over by certified experts. This article explores the way in which this speciality has established a distinctive identity that straddles seemingly contradictory maternalist and medicalised discourses. Drawing on professional sources and on a small study of Victorian lactation consultants, it explores the shift from the maternalist imagery characteristic of voluntary breastfeeding support groups, to a more complex message about breastfeeding as a contemporary social practice. We argue that the way in which lactation consultants negotiate complex relationships with peers and clients gives rise to a fluid professional identity. This reflects not only their historical legacy and recent changes in health systems and professional roles, but also a postmodern cultural context, in which women negotiate their embodied identities as mothers, lovers and workers.
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