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This study examined the feeding intention of mothers (n = 100), and the factors and beliefs, and changes in those factors or beliefs that influenced their choices, in the challenging environment of the neonatal unit. Mothers' experience and the frequency of nurse-assisted feeding activities were examined in mothers intending and not intending to breast-feed on discharge. Eighty-one per cent of mothers were either partially or fully breast-feeding or intending to do so on discharge. The most important factors identified as influencing this feeding choice included personal choice, with other influences being special benefits, more natural and feeling closer to the baby. Experiences such as infants receiving their first sucking feed from either the breast or bottle (inclusive of breast milk) and mothers expressing breast milk more frequently, were found to be significantly different and increased in frequency, in mothers intending to breast-feed. Differences in the mean weighted total daily nurse-assisted feeding score confirmed that these activities varied with gestational age (≤ 32 weeks [2.57], 32 to less than 35 weeks [3.86], and ≥ 35 weeks [4.91]; F = 7.04, d.f. 55, P = 0.002), although there was insufficient power to determine differences between breast-feeding and non-breast-feeding mothers. The use of the Feeding Activities Calendar may have contributed to increased activity and high levels of breast-feeding in this preterm group.