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Midwives' experiences of helping women struggling to breastfeed

02 April 2016
Volume 24 · Issue 4



Breastfeeding is accepted as the optimum way to nourish babies. It is established that women need informed support from midwives, but the focus of previous research has been predominantly on women's experiences, rather than that of midwives.


The aim of this study was to explore midwives' experiences of helping women who were struggling to breastfeed.


A qualitative methodology was selected using a phenomenological approach. Five midwives were purposefully recruited and data were collected using semi-structured interviews. Following transcription, data were analysed using Colaizzi's (1978) framework of analysis.


Three themes emerged describing midwives' experiences: time poverty, the impact of being ‘with women’, and professional integrity.


The study revealed that breastfeeding has an emotional impact on midwives. Not being able to spend the time they felt the women needed affected the midwives. With reports of an increasing shortage of midwives, there is concern that time poverty may increase, leading to a greater sense of professional dissatisfaction.

Breastfeeding is accepted as the optimum way to nourish babies (World Health Organization (WHO), 2016), with proven health benefits for both babies and mothers (Renfrew et al, 2012; Victora et al, 2016). One of the global nutrition targets for 2025 (WHO, 2014) is to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months up to at least 50% of mother–baby dyads; the current rate is 36% (WHO, 2016).

In the UK, it has been estimated that even a moderate increase in the rate of exclusive breastfeeding could save the NHS £40 million, due to the reduction in a number of key maternal and infant illnesses (Renfrew et al, 2012). In a time of ongoing budget cuts in the health service, this is significant, particularly as the true cost-saving that could be gained from an increase in exclusive breastfeeding rates is likely to be considerably higher (Renfrew et al, 2012).

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