Health visitors and breastfeeding support: influence of knowledge and self-efficacy

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Little is known about what influences health visitors’ breastfeeding support. The objective was to describe health visitors’ breastfeeding experiences, beliefs, knowledge and self-efficacy in breastfeeding guidance and determine the impact of a training course on these factors, and how they were reflected in practice.


A randomized intervention study enrolled 52 health visitors in the intervention group and 57 in the comparison group. The intervention group participated in an 18-hour pre-study training course that focused on knowledge about lactation and how to guide the mother to learn the mechanisms of breastfeeding. Data were collected through self-administered questionnaires before the intervention and after the follow-up period. One hundred and six (97%) health visitors and 1302 (82%) mothers responded.


At baseline no substantial differences were seen between the two groups on years since education, own breastfeeding experiences, beliefs or self-efficacy in breastfeeding guidance except that health visitors in the intervention group, who had completed the course, demonstrated significantly higher scores on knowledge questions (P < 0.01). After the intervention health visitors in the intervention group reported significantly higher self-efficacy in guidance on three of five breastfeeding problems (P < 0.01). Mothers in the intervention group reported having received more support than mothers in the comparison group.


An interactive course increased the health visitors’ knowledge of breastfeeding practice. After the intervention period the health visitors in the intervention group had increased their self-efficacy in helping mothers with common breastfeeding problems. The mothers in the intervention group reported more informational and instrumental breastfeeding support.

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