The education of health practitioners supporting breastfeeding women: time for critical reflection


Fiona Dykes, Maternal and Infant Nutrition and Nurture Unit (MAINN), Faculty of Health, University of Central Lancashire, Preston PR1 2HE, UK. E-mail:


The protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding has now become a major international priority as emphasized in the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding. Health practitioners, such as midwives, nurses and doctors, have a key role to play in providing support to breastfeeding women. This paper provides a critical discussion of educational requirements of health practitioners to equip them for their supportive role. The effective integration of embodied, vicarious, practice-based and theoretical knowledge requires opportunities for deep critical reflection. This approach should facilitate personal reflection and critical engagement with broader socio-political issues, thus allowing for collective understandings and change. Practitioners also need to understand breastfeeding as a biopsychosocial process that is dynamic, relational and changes over time. Recommendations are outlined with regards to multidisciplinary undergraduate education; mentorship schemes with knowledgeable role models supporting student practitioners; involvement of voluntary and peer supporters; post-registration education; setting of national standards for breastfeeding education; tailored education for specific groups; designated funding; and involvement of breastfeeding specialists.