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‘You're kinda passing a test’: A phenomenological study of women's experiences of breastfeeding

02 November 2018
13 min read
Volume 26 · Issue 11

Abstract

Background

Despite an increasing research base about what helps or hinders breastfeeding, there is a dramatic drop in breastfeeding prevalence within the first 6 weeks.

Aim

To explore the experiences of breastfeeding women.

Methods

This study used interpretive phenomenology to research the experiences of 22 women who had all breastfed their youngest baby for at least 11 days. Data were collected using in-depth interviews when the women's babies were between 3-6 months of age. Thematic analysis was used to analyse findings.

Findings

The women described tensions and mixed messages regarding breastfeeding, and contradictions between public health messages promoting breastfeeding and the support received to continue breastfeeding. The women also described how these approaches and messages affected their breastfeeding experiences, and how they managed breastfeeding as a result.

Conclusions

The findings from this study revealed a patriarchal healthcare support system for breastfeeding whereby the women felt under surveillance and expected to perform to a prescribed ideal, but also a lack of support for exclusive breastfeeding after the initial postnatal period. These findings have clear implications for practice and policy.

Despite an increasing research base about what helps or hinders breastfeeding, there is a dramatic drop in breastfeeding prevalence within the first 6 weeks (Health and Social Care Information Centre, 2012). The reasons that mothers give for stopping breastfeeding suggest that few mothers discontinued because they planned to, particularly those stopping before 4 months (Bolling et al, 2007). Given that breastfeeding confers short- and long-term health benefits for both mother and infant (Horta et al, 2007; Ip et al, 2007), and the adverse effects of early discontinuation—particularly to maternal mental health and attachment security between infant and mother (Dennis and McQueen, 2009)—it is crucial that more research is directed to capturing, analysing, and seeking to understand this phenomenon from the perspective of those living that experience.

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