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Health professionals’ attitudes towards the promotion of breastfeeding

02 January 2015
17 min read
Volume 23 · Issue 1

Abstract

Background:

Despite their important role in breastfeeding promotion, there is a lack of research regarding professionals’ attitudes towards breastfeeding, and the impact these may have on breastfeeding promotion.

Aim:

To investigate health professionals’ views regarding breastfeeding, the influences on those views, and how they impact the breastfeeding promotion.

Methods:

In this qualitative study, 10 focus groups were carried out with health professionals involved with breastfeeding promotion.

Results:

Several themes emerged. These were: powerlessness and pessimism, breastfeeding promotion vs coercion/education, and the function of breastfeeding promotion. Professionals felt positively towards breastfeeding, but saw their influence as minimal due to an array of external influences on the mothers’ decision. They felt that promotion was not always carried out appropriately, and were wary of moralising breastfeeding. Professionals felt their role was one of informing, rather than promotion.

The health advantages of breastfeeding are widely documented (Fishman, 2010; Oddy et al, 2011), and the role health professionals play in promoting breastfeeding is also well established (Lawrence, 2010). There is evidence to suggest that support from a skilled health professional can have a positive effect on initiation, duration and experiences of breastfeeding (Battersby, 2014). To provide standardisation and quality support offered by health professionals, UNICEF and the World Health Organization founded the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative in 1991 to appropriately train professionals (UNICEF, 2014).

Uniformity of positive attitudes, knowledge, and promotion behaviour is the objective of health services, and is expected and assumed by many policies (Scottish Government, 2011). Often there is little or no consideration of the attitudes of professionals and the role this may have in promotion in breastfeeding policy frameworks. Although views regarding breastfeeding are generally positive, positivity is not universal. Tennant et al (2006) found concerns among health professionals about practice sometimes running counter to the evidence-base, while Cockerham-Colas et al (2012) found negative attitudes towards extended nursing.

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