Leaky Systems: Infant feeding and design

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNConference contribution with ISSN or ISBNpeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design.
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2022
EventRelating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD11): Possibilities and Practices of Systemic Design - University of Brighton, Brighton, United Kingdom
Duration: 13 Oct 202216 Oct 2022

Publication series

ISSN (Electronic)2371-8404


ConferenceRelating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD11)
Abbreviated titleRSD11
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • systemic design
  • leaky systems
  • leaky bodies
  • systems thinking
  • design
  • design research
  • design and reproduction


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