Young parents’ personal and social information contexts for child feeding practices. An ethnographic study in British Columbia, Canada

Date14 May 2018
Published date14 May 2018
AuthorHeather O’Brien,Devon Greyson,Cathy Chabot,Jean Shoveller
Young parentspersonal and
social information contexts for
child feeding practices
An ethnographic study in British
Columbia, Canada
Heather OBrien
School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, Canada
Devon Greyson
Child and Family Research Institute, University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, Canada, and
Cathy Chabot and Jean Shoveller
School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, Canada
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to utilize McKenzies two-dimensional model of information
practices to situate child feeding practices as complex, socially situated information practices. Further,
the authors examined a host of contextual factors (financial, physical, and social) that enabled and
constrained informa tion practices within the tightly cont rolled environment tha t defines the lives of
young parents (YPs).
Design/methodology/approach Methods of investigation were ethnographic in nature and data
collection methods included naturalistic observation and interviews in two communities in British Columbia,
Canada over a period of several years. Data collection and analysis was ongoing. During the initial stages of
data analysis, a conventional approach to content analysis was used to identify key concepts, preliminary
themes, and illustrative examples. Working within the broader category of child feeding practices, the
authors used a constant comparative process of directed content analysis to identify sub-themes, namely,
distinct physical, social, and financial influences on child feeding practices.
Findings The YPs in this study described negotiating breastfeeding, formula feeding, and the introduction
of solid foods within a heavily surveilled atmosphere with different and conflicting levels of support and
information. The findings demonstrated that active seeking by YPs was often discouraged by authorities,
and more passive practices of information encountering and receipt of information from proxies were
accepted and expected.
Research limitations/implications This study used McKenzies two-dimensional model to paint a richer
picture of YPsinformation practices and their physical, geographical, financial, and social contexts.
Practical implications These findings suggests that child feeding informational support should, rather
than being prescriptive, take into account the complexities of YPsrelationships and daily lives, as well as the
social structures that shape their experiences as parents.
Social implications Child feeding practices are influenced by a host of physical, financial, and social
factors, and are situated within familial and education environments, as well as broader social and
policy discourses.
Originality/value This research utilized Mc Kenzies two-dimensio nal model of informatio n practices
with a sample of YPs. Evidence suggested that child feeding practices were informed by active seeking,
active scanning, non-directed monitoring, and by proxy, but these manifested differently for YPs than
for the older expecta nt mothers upon whom McKenzies original mod el was derived. Using ethnographic
methods, the authors situated child feeding practices as complex information practices that are informed
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 74 No. 3, 2018
pp. 608-623
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-09-2017-0127
Received 11 September 2017
Revised 19 November 2017
Accepted 2 December 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
The authors extend sincere thanks to the young parents and others who participated in the study and
blind for peer review.
by conflicting informati on, physical, social, and fi nancial factors and intens ive parenting ideologies .
This reinforces the nee d for information scie nce researchers to und erstand contextual f actors that
influence practices .
Keywords Uncertainty, User studies, Information studies, Information services,
Generation and dissemination of information, Individual behaviour, Models, Information research,
Personal needs
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Food is a basic human need, yet feeding practices are socially, politically, and morally
situated. Health issues across the lifespan, ranging from type 2 diabetes to osteoporosis, are
linked to food consumption, placing dietary guidance within the purview of government,
schools, mass media, and health care systems. Parents most often mothers are targeted
by healthy eatingmessages with the goal of improving child and maternal health. Mothers
are expected to actively seek information and accept unsolicited advice (McKenzie, 2002,
2006; OKay and Hugh-Jones, 2010; Stearns, 1999).
These expectations are compounded for young parents (YPs), who are deemed a risky
population and subjected to intense monitoring and health interventions (Brand et al., 2014;
Shoveller and Johnson, 2006). For example, young mothers (YMs) have been the subject of
research linking risk factors, such as developmental weight gain and adolescent eating
behaviors, to childhood obesity (Lemay et al., 2008; Tabak et al., 2016). Studies of this nature
have been criticized for being reductionist and quantitatively focused, neglecting the
complexity of young peoples lives and the social conditions in which they live(Brand et al.,
2014, p. 175). Yet, it is this type of research that drives health policies and practices, and
perpetuates the stigmatization and surveillance of YPs (Duncan, 2007).
The current research takes a more holistic approach to the baby and child feeding
practices of YPs, with a focus on the information aspects of such practices. Drawing from an
ethnographic study in British Columbia, Canada, this paper presents YPschild feeding
practices as intertwined with socially situated information practices (McKenzie, 2003, 2006).
Of interest is how YPs connect and interact with child feeding information, the ways in
which information and social factors are woven into these narratives, and the relationship
between food-related discourse and parenting identities.
2. Related work
Research on parentsinformation behaviors has focused on the role of information in the
feeding intentions of women pregnant with twins (McKenzie, 2006), pregnancy-related
information needs of low-income mothers (Shieh et al., 2009), breastfeeding discourse in
public health education materials (Wall, 2001), the everyday life information needs of new
mothers (Loudon et al., 2016), playgroups as information grounds (Tardy, 2000), and sources
of information influencing introducing infants to solid foods (Arden, 2010; OKay and
Hugh-Jones, 2010). Common in all of these studies is the ambiguity of parenting information
sources. Incomplete knowledge, contradictory information, and difficulties deciphering
norms and values within a given setting create uncertainty in parenting practices
(Boholm et al., 2013) and are compounded by intensive motheringideologies in western
society (Hays, 1996).
Intensive mothering, also referred to as intensive parenting in an attempt at gender
inclusivity, refers to the resources (physical, mental, and financial) expended by primary
caregivers to meet childrens developmental needs (Romagnoli and Wall, 2012). Parents
( frequently, but not exclusively mothers) engage in information work(Huvila, 2009) to
acquire and expend resources, and their information activities are subjected to expert
(e.g. health professionals) and non-expert (e.g. family, strangers encountered in public
and social

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