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What influences women to stop or continue breastfeeding? A thematic analysis

02 October 2018
17 min read
Volume 26 · Issue 10

Abstract

Background

The UK figures suggest that rates of breastfeeding are low compared to other countries. While initial breastfeeding rates have increased, figures are still low for those continuing to breastfeed at 6 months.

Aims

To understand the experiences of breastfeeding women and what affects their ability to continue breastfeeding.

Methods

A total of 41 women aged 18-45 years who had attempted to breastfeed between 2011 and 2016 took part in semi-structured interviews, analysed using a thematic approach.

Findings

Four main themes were identified: attachment, provision of information and support, sociocultural pressures and maternal role. The study found that women reported more positive attachment to their infant when breastfeeding.

Conclusions

While women were often highly motivated to breastfeed, they often did not receive sufficient information and support, often leading to early cessation. Women highlighted the societal pressures to breastfeed and how this was incorporated into the perception of what it was to be a ‘mother’.

Breastfeeding is a natural form of infant feeding, but not all women breastfeed, and those who do may not necessarily feed for the recommended length of time (Feenstra et al, 2018). It is advised that breastfeeding takes place exclusively for the first 6 months of an infant's life, followed by the introduction of nutritional foods alongside breastfeeding up to 2 years of age and beyond (World Health Organization (WHO), 2011). Breastfeeding an infant up to and over 8 months of age has been found to result in numerous physical health benefits, such as improved immunity through the transfer of antibodies; protection against health conditions such as diabetes, obesity and allergies (WHO and UNICEF, 2003); and increased cognitive advantages such as higher IQ scores (Horwood and Fergusson, 1998).

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