Exploring dimensions of health literacy: a case study of interventions to promote and support breastfeeding

Gillis, Doris E. (2009) Exploring dimensions of health literacy: a case study of interventions to promote and support breastfeeding. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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At a time when health literacy is emerging as a central concern in the health field, this thesis examines whether and how practitioners involved in the promotion of breastfeeding incorporate dimensions of health literacy as described in the current literature. Although there is little evidence that practitioners are familiar with specific definitions of health literacy, their description of practices reflected various facets of health literacy including functional health literacy, interactive and critical health literacy, and health literacy as composed of multiple literacies.

This qualitative case study was set in a rural health district in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia where breastfeeding initiation and duration rates are lower than national averages and where health literacy was identified as a community health issue. In-depth face-to-face interviews were conducted with 30 professional and lay practitioners. Practices in one hospital-based and two community-based settings were observed. Data were analyzed for themes using an iterative process of constant comparison. Interview informants and mothers provided feedback on preliminary findings in focus group interviews.

Findings reflect an emphasis on the transmission of information to persuade mothers to breastfeed, in contrast to strengthening their capacity to use information in making or acting on choices about how to feed their babies. Practitioners’ discomfort in identifying clients with low literacy skills raises fundamental concerns about the stigma associated with low literacy. A focus on the functional health literacy deficiencies of clients, not on their capacities, appears limiting in addressing the complexities of breastfeeding promotion. There is little evidence of practices which reflect critical health literacy or efforts to reduce structural barriers to breastfeeding. In conclusion, the study suggests that practitioners’ engagement in critical reflection of their breastfeeding promotion practices through the multidimensional frame of health literacy could help to further their practice and the conceptual development of health literacy.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Murphy, E.A.
Gray, N.J.
Keywords: health literacy, breastfeeding
Subjects: R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Sociology and Social Policy
Item ID: 11199
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2010 09:29
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2017 09:16
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/11199

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