The Lived Experiences of Breastfeeding Women

Sunday, 17 November 2013: 3:05 PM

Karen F. Phillips, EdD, RN, BS, MS
College of Health and Science, William Paterson University, Wayne, NJ

Learning Objective 1: Develop an enhanced understanding of the breastfeeding experience.

Learning Objective 2: Relate the importance of breastfeeding to health promotion and disease prevention.

Breastfeeding has been associated with numerous long term infant and maternal health benefits. The American Academy of Pediatrics (2012) and the World Health Organization (2011) among others recommend excluisve breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Currently only 16.5 percent of women are exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months (Centers for Disease Control, 2012). Although exclusive breastfeeding rates are increasing, these rates are well below the objectives of Healthy People 2020 of 25.5 percent exclusive breastfeeding at 6 months.

A qualitative, phenomenological, hermeneutic study was conducted to explore the lived experiences of first-time breastfeeding mothers. Seventeen English-speaking women, ages 21 to 40 breastfeeding for the first time, participated in semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions that explored their breastfeeding experience. Participants were interviewed 24 to 48 hours after birth and at 4 weeks postpartum until common themes emerged.

 Breastfeeding women in this study described the difficulties faced during their breastfeeding experience. The study participants spoke of the excitement, exhilaration, and feeling of empowerment when breastfeeding was successful. Helpful strategies' include anticipatory guidance, breastfeeding education, lactation support, and roomin-in among others. An in-depth analysis of the narrative interviews revealed 8 major themes.

The findings from the study provide leaders, maternal child healthcare professionals, and breastfeeding women additional insights into the breastfeeding experience. A greater understanding of the breastfeeding experience could enhance current approaches to current breastfeeding education and support leading to improved continuation and duration rates as well as improved health outcomes for future generations.