Sally Sutherland

School of Architecture, Technology and Engineering, University of Brighton

It is well established that breastfeeding or chestfeeding is immensely beneficial to breastfeeding mothers, chestfeeding parents, and infants throughout their life spans. There are wide-ranging and far-reaching benefits to increasing breastfeeding rates in all areas of the world (Victora et al., 2016). Despite the many benefits, recorded rates in the UK remain among the lowest in the world (Renfew et al., 2012). Mainstream British culture, support, and literature positions infant feeding as a personal choice and a local issue. However, choosing how to feed a child is not an open and unrestricted choice (Brown, 2021). This illusion of choice is coupled with public health messaging encouraging new mothers and birthing people to exclusively breastfeed or chestfeed their children. However, parents and infants are surrounded by a systemic and cultural lack of support to do so, placing the mother or parent in a double bind. Shame and guilt commonly occur in association with infant feeding experiences, regardless of how a child is fed (Jackson et al., 2021). In this paper, I argue that it is possible and necessary to move outside binary expectations of infant feeding dyads, expanding the field of vision or situation of focus when seeking to understand UK infant feeding practices. I argue that human bodies and (often designed) environments are ‘leaky’ and permeate each other. This leakage happens in different ways, from the physical to the cultural and behavioural. The consequences of the leakage are substantive and insidious. I discuss how lactating bodies, feeding bodies and eating bodies are among many interrelating leaky ecological bodies. Furthermore, these and other ecological and environmental systems, matters and meanings’ leak’ into and between infant feeding and design. I argue that how infants are fed (in the UK or elsewhere) is a critical issue of planetary health, that issues of planetary health impact infant feeding bodies, and that these relationships are mediated by design. Therefore, recognising and discussing ‘leaky systems’ in and through design enable possibilities for understanding and responding to complex planetary health issues.

KEYWORDS: leaky bodies, leaky systems, leaky design, design research, design and motherhood, design and childhood, design and parenthood, infant feeding, design and health, planetary health, breastfeeding, chestfeeding, motherhood, parenthood, childhood, feeding, eating, lactation

Planetary health series

Panel (Evan Barba, Eleni Charoupia, Sally Sutherland, and Clément Vidal)

Citation Data

Author(s): Sally Sutherland
Year: 2022
Title: Leaky Bodies and Environments: Infant feeding and design
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 139
Host: University of Brighton
Location: Brighton, UK
Symposium Dates: October 3–16, 2022
First published: 22 September 2022
Last update: 30 April 2023
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404

Copyright Information

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


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