Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Roberta Baer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Antoinette Jackson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephanie Marhefka, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dinorah Martinez-Tyson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Miller, Ph.D.


cultural anthropology, ethnicity, food and nutrition, maternal and infant health, policy, public health, race and racism


The food an infant is fed can reflect many things: a source of nutrition, the social and cultural circumstances into which an infant is born, or even a family’s beliefs about the body and breast milk as a source of nutrition. Exclusive breastfeeding, currently the gold standard for infant feeding in the United States (US), is often identified as an expectation in discourses on being a “good mother.” African American mothers in particular are the least likely group in the US to breastfeed in any capacity and many efforts are underway to increase the breastfeeding rates of this population.

This dissertation presents findings of a three-part qualitative study whose purpose was to examine how African American mothers define being a good mother and to learn what factors they experience in early motherhood that may influence their decisions for infant feeding and infant care. Because most research in this area focuses on low income African American mothers, this research has a distinct focus on middle class African American mothers to allow for the consideration of factors besides low socioeconomic status that may contribute to breastfeeding behavior. By defining good motherhood in accordance with middle class African American mothers’ definition, this research argues against the standard that aligns “good motherhood” with breastfeeding and suggests instead that, in some instances, being a good mother means caring and providing for the family at the exclusion of breastfeeding. Included are suggestions for alternative strategies that extend beyond educating and encouraging African American mothers to conform to a standard that can appear to be in conflict with their primary values.