Factors affecting the initiation of breastfeeding: implications for breastfeeding promotion

Earle, S. (2002). Factors affecting the initiation of breastfeeding: implications for breastfeeding promotion. Health Promotion International, 17(3) pp. 205–214.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/heapro/17.3.205


Breastfeeding rates in the United Kingdom (UK) are one of the lowest in the developed world and certainly the lowest in Europe. There have been numerous studies of breastfeeding in the UK, most of which have adopted a quantitative approach, and they have largely focused on obstetric or socio-demographic factors in the decision to breastfeed. Whilst these studies have an important role to play, this paper draws on a study which adopts a qualitative methodology to explore women's personal experiences and perceptions of breastfeeding. A qualitative study of 19 primagravidae was undertaken and completed in 1998. Participants were recruited to the study via 12 antenatal clinics in the West Midlands, England, UK. Their ages ranged from 16 to 30 years and the majority described themselves as 'White'. The majority of participants were in paid employment and were employed in a variety of occupations. The study was prospective in design. Participants were interviewed three times either during pregnancy or after childbirth: the first stage was between six and 14 weeks of pregnancy; the second stage was between 34 and 39 weeks; and the third stage was between six and 14 weeks after childbirth. The data indicate that there are several factors affecting breastfeeding initiation. Firstly, infant feeding decisions seem to be made prior to, or irrespective of, contact with health professionals. Secondly, the data suggest that health promotion campaigns in the UK have been influential in their ability to educate women about the benefits of breastfeeding. However, this did not dissuade participants from formula feeding, once their decision was made. The desire for paternal involvement also seemed to be another influential factor; fathers were either seen as able to alleviate the daily grind of early motherhood, or there was a desire for 'shared parenting'. Lastly, some of the formula feeding women expressed a strong desire to re-establish their identities as separate individuals and as 'non-mothers'.

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