The influence of psychological factors on breastfeeding duration


  • Maxine O’Brien,

    1. Maxine O’Brien BSc PhD Postdoctoral Research Fellow Centre for Rural and Remote Area Health, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia
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  • Elizabeth Buikstra,

    1. Elizabeth Buikstra BSc PhD Statewide Project Officer Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health Queensland, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
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  • Desley Hegney

    1. Desley Hegney BA PhD RN Professor of Nursing, Director, Research and Practice Development Centre, University of Queensland and Blue Care, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
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M. O’Brien: e-mail:


Title. The influence of psychological factors on breastfeeding duration.

Aim.  This paper reports on a study examining the relationship between women’s psychological characteristics and breastfeeding duration, after controlling for socio-demographic factors.

Background.  The literature suggests that psychological factors may influence breastfeeding behaviour, but studies are few. Existing evidence and the results of phase 1 of our study were used to construct a list of psychological factors, which were tested for their association with breastfeeding duration in the current design.

Method.  Participants were postnatal inpatients in one of two regional hospitals between October and December 2005 and they completed the initial questionnaire within 14 days of giving birth (= 375). Infant feeding method at 6 months and the timing of introduction of other food(s), where relevant, were ascertained by telephone interview.

Findings.  Forty-four per cent of the sample showed signs of postnatal distress in the 14 days following the birth. Breastfeeding duration was statistically significantly associated with psychological factors including dispositional optimism, breastfeeding self-efficacy, faith in breastmilk, breastfeeding expectations, anxiety, planned duration of breastfeeding and the time of the infant feeding decision. As a set, these psychological factors were more predictive of breastfeeding duration than was the set of socio-demographic characteristics. The duration of any breastfeeding was uniquely predicted by faith in breastmilk, planned breastfeeding duration and breastfeeding self-efficacy.

Conclusion.  This increased knowledge of the factors influencing breastfeeding will assist in identifying women at risk of early weaning and in constructing programmes capable of increasing the length of time for which women breastfeed.