• breastfeeding;
  • nurses;
  • nursing;
  • post-natal support;
  • psychological distress

Aims.  The study investigated factors empowering women to continue breastfeeding despite experiencing extraordinary difficulties. The study documented the experiences and characteristics of women who continued to breastfeed (continuing cohort) and those who weaned (non-continuing cohort) despite extraordinary difficulties.

Design.  Retrospective case control.

Methods.  The study was undertaken in south-east Queensland, Australia in 2004. Forty women (20 in each cohort) were recruited over six months. Both quantitative (breastfeeding knowledge questionnaire) and qualitative (semi-structured interviews) data were collected. This paper describes the qualitative data.

Results.  Women from both cohorts expressed idealistic expectations about breastfeeding and experienced psychological distress due to their breastfeeding problems. Those who continued breastfeeding used coping strategies and exhibited personal qualities that assisted them to overcome the difficulties experienced. Women who continued to breastfeed were more likely to report relying on a health professional they could trust for support. This latter cohort were also more likely to report having peers with which they shared their experiences. Non-continuing women expressed feelings of guilt and inadequacy following weaning and were more likely to feel isolated.

Conclusions.  This study has highlighted the methods women use to deal with breastfeeding problems. It has also revealed modificable factors that can improve breastfeeding duration.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The findings indicate that clinicians should:

  • Provide information which accurately reflects the breastfeeding experience;
  • Ensure systems are in place so that effective postnatal support for breastfeeding difficulties is available;
  • Consider screening to ascertain levels of psychological distress, sadness and disillusionment among breastfeeding women;
  • Design educational interventions with elements of cognitive skills, problem-solving and self-efficacy training to equip women with the skills to overcome any experienced difficulties.