• Open Access

A qualitative study of women’s views about how health professionals communicate about infant feeding


  • Pat Hoddinott GP,

    1. Honorary Clinical Research Fellow, Department of General Practice and Primary Care, Aberdeen and Macduff Medical Practice, 100 Duff Street, Macduff, Banffshire AB44 1PR, UK,
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  • Roisin Pill

    1. Roisin Pill, Professor of General Practice Research, Department of General Practice, University of Wales College of Medicine, Llanedeyrn Health Centre, Maelfa, Cardiff CF3 7PN, UK
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Pat Hoddinott Dr Macduff Medical Practice 100 Duff Street Macduff Banffshire AB44 1PR UK E-mail: hoddinott@doctors.org.uk



To look at how communication by health professionals about infant feeding is perceived by first time mothers.


Qualitative semi-structured interviews early in pregnancy and 6–10 weeks after birth.

Subjects and setting

Twenty-one white, low income women expecting their first baby were interviewed mostly at home, often with their partner or a relative.


The personal and practical aspects of infant feeding which were important to women were seldom discussed in detail in ante-natal interviews. In post-natal interviews women described how words alone encouraging them to breastfeed were insufficient. Apprenticeship style learning of practical skills was valued, particularly time patiently spent watching them feed their baby. Women preferred to be shown skills rather than be told how to do them. Some felt pressure to breastfeed and bottle feeding mothers on post-natal wards felt neglected in comparison. Women preferred their own decision-making to be facilitated rather than being advised what to do. Some women experienced distress exposing their breasts and being touched by health professionals. Continuity of care and forming a personal relationship with a health professional who could reassure them were key factors associated with satisfaction with infant feeding communication.


The infant feeding goal for many women is a contented, thriving baby. In contrast, women perceive that the goal for health professionals is the continuation of breastfeeding. These differing goals can give rise to dissatisfaction with communication which is often seen as ‘breastfeeding centred’ rather than ‘woman centred.’ Words alone offering support for breastfeeding were often inadequate and women valued practical demonstrations and being shown how to feed their baby. Spending time with a caring midwife with whom the woman had developed a personal, continuing relationship was highly valued. Women were keen to maintain ownership, control and responsibility for their own decision-making about infant feeding.