Women's experiences of breastfeeding: an interpretive phenomenological study

Spencer, Rachael Louise (2013) Women's experiences of breastfeeding: an interpretive phenomenological study. DHSci thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Breastfeeding is a key public health issue, conferring benefits associated with both infant and maternal health. Despite an increasing research base about what helps or hinders breastfeeding, there is a dramatic drop in breastfeeding prevalence within the first six weeks following birth. The reasons that mothers give for stopping breastfeeding suggest that few mothers gave up because they planned to. This would appear to suggest that there is a gap between women's experiences of breastfeeding and professional practice to promote, support and increase duration.


Using an interpretive phenomenological methodology this study was designed to capture mothers' own interpretations of their experiences of breastfeeding. In-depth interviews with 22 women from the city and surrounding areas of Lincoln were conducted and analysed.


Analysis of the data from interviews with 22 primiparous and multiparous mothers resulted in the emergence of three main overarching themes: reality shock, illusions of compliance and tensions. Sub-themes Included idealised expectations, incessant demands, onus of responsibility, playing the game, breaking the rules, surveillance and scrutiny, conflicts and contradictions, and cultural constructs.


The findings from this study revealed that women were ill-prepared for the realities of breastfeeding and for most women the shock of this experience was overwhelming. Those women who struggled to establish breastfeeding did so in silence. They tried to hide their vulnerabilities rather than admit that they were not coping. A lack of peer and family support, combined with the rigid and inflexible approach espoused by health care professionals, led to the perception that exclusive breastfeeding was an unrealistic and unattainable ideal. This has clear implications for practice and policy.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (DHSci)
Supervisors: Fraser, D.M.
Greatrex-White, S.
Keywords: Experience of breastfeeding, Promotion of breastfeeding, Interviews
Subjects: W Medicine and related subjects (NLM Classification) > WS Pediatrics
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Health Sciences
Item ID: 27881
Depositing User: Blore, Mrs Kathryn
Date Deposited: 02 Dec 2014 10:01
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2017 11:51
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/27881

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