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Healthcare professionals’ and mothers’ perceptions of factors that influence decisions to breastfeed or formula feed infants: a comparative study

Authors


A. Brown: e-mail: a.e.brown@swansea.ac.uk

Abstract

brown a., raynor p. & lee m. (2011) Healthcare professionals’ and mothers’ perceptions of factors that influence decisions to breastfeed or formula feed infants: a comparative study. Journal of Advanced Nursing 67(9), 1993–2003.

Abstract

Aim.  This article is a report of a study comparing healthcare professionals’ and mothers’ perceptions of factors that influence the decision to breastfeed or formula feed an infant.

Background.  The World Health Organisation recommends that mothers should breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months of age and then continue to do so alongside complementary foods for the first 2 years and beyond. However, levels of breastfeeding in the United Kingdom are below the recommended targets. Low levels of actual or perceived professional support and understanding are associated with formula use.

Methods.  Twenty professionals working closely with mothers of young infants completed a semi-structured interview exploring the reasons they believed mothers chose to use formula milk. Twenty-three mothers with an infant aged 6–12 months also reflected on their experiences of milk feeding. The data were collected during 2007–2008.

Results.  Professionals described a range of influences on maternal decisions to breastfeed or formula feed including lack of knowledge, support and help with difficulties. These were strongly echoed in the reasons mothers gave for formula use, suggesting clear professional understanding of the challenges relating to breastfeeding. Although keen to give further support, professionals raised issues of lack of time and resources to support mothers.

Conclusion.  Contrary to maternal beliefs of poor professional understanding, professionals had a clear perception of influences affecting early milk feeding choice. Further resources and recognition are needed for healthcare professionals working with new mothers to enable them to offer increased support, with the aim of increasing breastfeeding duration.

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