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Keywords:

  • breastfeeding;
  • qualitative research;
  • infant nutrition;
  • lactation

To date, exclusive breastfeeding rates worldwide remain modest despite multiple breastfeeding initiatives. Much breastfeeding research has been conducted, but to facilitate greater understanding, cumulative knowledge development is required. The author used Noblit and Hare's (1988) method to synthesize 15 qualitative breastfeeding studies. Synthesized studies revealed that breastfeeding is an “engrossing, personal journey,” which is very physical and requires maternal commitment, adaptation, and support from multiple sources. Breastfeeding was also shown to have significant personal impact on mothers and to require time for resolution on discontinuing. These findings suggest that health care practitioners can provide the most meaningful breastfeeding support by acknowledging each mother's individual breastfeeding capacity, goals, comfort level with her own body, support network, tolerance of breastfeeding difficulties, and willingness to make the life adaptations that breastfeeding requires. An individually tailored breastfeeding plan is suggested to facilitate both a satisfactory maternal breastfeeding experience and to maximize breastfeeding exclusivity and duration.