UK women's experiences of breastfeeding and additional breastfeeding support: A qualitative study of Baby Café services

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Background: Whilst 81 % of UK women initiate breastfeeding, there is a steep decline in breastfeeding rates during the early postnatal period, with just 55 % of women breastfeeding at six weeks. 80 % of these women stopped breastfeeding sooner than they intended, with women citing feeding difficulties and lack of adequate support. As part of efforts to increase breastfeeding continuation rates, many public and voluntary organisations offer additional breastfeeding support services, which provide practical support in the early postnatal period and beyond. This paper focuses on the qualitative experiences of UK users of Baby Café services to examine their experiences of breastfeeding and breastfeeding support. Methods: The study was based upon in-depth interviews and focus groups with users of eight Baby Café breastfeeding support groups across the UK. Thirty-six interviews and five focus groups were conducted with a total of fifty-one mothers using the service. Interviews and group discussions were analysed using N Vivo software to draw out key themes and discussions. Results: Whilst each mother's infant feeding journey is unique, reflecting her own personal circumstances and experiences, several themes emerged strongly from the data. Many women felt that they had been given unrealistic expectations of breastfeeding by professionals keen to promote the benefits. This left them feeling unprepared when they encountered pain, problems and relentlessness of early infant feeding, leading to feelings of guilt and inadequacy over their feeding decisions. Mothers valued the combination of expert professional and peer support provided by Baby Café services and emphasised the importance of social support from other mothers in enabling them to continue feeding for as long as they wished. Conclusions: The research emphasises the need for realistic rather than idealistic antenatal preparation and the importance of timely and parent-centred breastfeeding support, particularly in the immediate postnatal weeks. The findings suggest that effective social support, combined with reassurance and guidance from skilled practitioners, can help women to overcome difficulties and find confidence in their own abilities to achieve their feeding goals. However, further work is needed to make sure such services are readily accessible to women from all sectors of the community. 2015




Fox, R., McMullen, S., & Newburn, M. (2015). UK women’s experiences of breastfeeding and additional breastfeeding support: A qualitative study of Baby Café services. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 15(1).

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