Mothers of preterm infants’ experiences of breastfeeding support in the first 12 months after birth: A qualitative study

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BackgroundBreastfeeding support is important for breastfeeding mothers; however, it is less clear how mothers of preterm infants (< 37 gestational weeks) experience breastfeeding support during the first year. Thus, the aim of this study was to describe how mothers of preterm infants in Sweden experience breastfeeding support during the first 12 months after birth.MethodsThis qualitative study used data from 151 mothers from questionnaires with open-ended questions and telephone interviews. The data were analyzed using an inductive thematic network analysis with a hermeneutical approach.ResultsThe results exposed two organizing themes and one global theme. In the organizing theme “genuine support strengthens,” the mothers described how they were strengthened by being listened to and met with respect, understanding, and knowledge. The support was individually adapted and included both practical and emotional support. In the organizing theme “inadequate support diminishes,” the mothers described how health professionals who were controlling and intrusive diminished them and how the support they needed was not provided or was inappropriate. Thus, the global theme “being thrown into a lottery—dependent on the health professional who provided breastfeeding support” emerged, meaning that the support received was random in terms of knowledge and support style, depending on the individual health professionals who were available.ConclusionBreastfeeding support to mothers of preterm infants was highly variable, either constructive or destructive depending on who provided support. This finding clearly shows major challenges for health care, which should make breastfeeding support more person-centered, equal, and supportive in accordance with individual needs.

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