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Understanding the cultural context of Chinese mothers’ perceptions of breastfeeding and infant health in Canada


Wil-Lie Chen, Associate Professor, School of Nursing, China Medical University, 91, Hsueh-Shih Rd., Taichung 404, Taiwan. Telephone: +886(4) 22053366 7108.


Aims and objectives.  The purpose of this study was to explore Chinese mothers’ perceptions about breastfeeding and infant health in the Canadian context.

Background.  Chinese mothers’ breastfeeding perceptions are challenging for health professionals in North America, but few studies have focused on this issue in depth.

Design.  An interpretive qualitative methodology was used.

Methods.  Data were collected through semi-structured individual interviews with 15 purposively sampled Chinese mothers two months after delivery in Vancouver, British Columbia. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. Constant comparative analysis was used to develop coding categories and identify themes.

Results.  Two main themes emerged: (1) the idea of harmony within change and (2) the meaning of infant health. The first represents mothers’ perceptions about breastfeeding: the value of common sense, purity of breast milk and the laws of nature. The second represents notions of infant health, including its indicators and the relationship between mother’s health and infant health.

Conclusions.  Chinese mothers’ concepts of breastfeeding are associated with Western biomedical thought, traditional Chinese medicine and personal experiences, especially those embedded in the traditional Chinese cultural context. Perceptions of breastfeeding and infant health regarding notions of harmony within natural dynamic patterns must be considered when promoting breastfeeding.

Relevance to clinical practice.  This study highlights the cultural context affecting Chinese mothers’ breastfeeding practices. Nurses and other health professionals require sensitivity when assessing Chinese mothers’ breastfeeding practice so that they are able to provide appropriate postnatal and breastfeeding support.