Objective: to explore the expectations and experiences of postnatal mothers in relation to infant feeding, and to identify how care could be improved.
Design: this study used a qualitative, exploratory, descriptive design. Data were collected through one to one in-depth semi-structured interviews and focus groups.
Setting: Tayside area of Eastern Scotland.
Participants: seven focus group interviews (n=38 participants) and 40 semi-structured one-to-one interviews with mothers with a range of infant feeding experiences i.e. exclusively breast fed; started breast feeding but changed to formula milk before 16 weeks; exclusively formula fed; or who concurrently breast and formula fed their infant.
Findings: a principal theme of 'Mixed and missing messages' emerged, incorporating 'Conflicting advice', 'Information gaps' and 'Pressure to breast feed' with a secondary theme of 'Emotional costs'. Several problems were identified with how women were given information, how infant feeding discussions were held, and the type of support available after the infant is born.
Key conclusions: there was a strong perception that some midwives are not 'allowed' to discuss or provide information on formula feeding, and the women reported feeling pressurised to breast feed. Current interpretation of guidance from the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative may be restricting antenatal discussions about infant feeding. The combination of this partial preparation antenatally and postnatal support that was often inconsistent seems to incur a counter-productive emotional cost.
Implications for practice: at strategic, policy and practice levels the infant feeding message needs to change to encourage a more woman-centred focus including discussions about the realities of all types of infant feeding. It is important that health providers continue to promote and support breast feeding; and that effective services are provided to women who wish to breast feed to help them to do so. However provision of information about all aspects of feeding is needed as well as support for women who do not wish to breast feed. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.
- Breast feeding
- Formula feeding
- Informed consent