Lactation Assessment Tools: A Qualitative Analysis of Registered Nurses’ Perceptions of Tool Limitations and Suggested Improvements

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Abstract

Background

Several lactation assessment tools are available for in-hospital assessment of breastfeeding dyads, and their components vary widely. To date, no research has evaluated the perceptions of registered nurses (RNs) regarding the limitations and future improvements of these tools.

Research Aim

The aim was to describe RNs’ perceptions of the limitations of currently used lactation assessment tools and how these tools could be enhanced.

Methods

Focus groups (n = 7) were conducted with RNs (N = 28) whose current responsibilities included in-hospital breastfeeding assessment. Recruitment occurred from April through July 2015 at regional and international lactation conferences. Focus groups were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. Two lactation researchers analyzed the transcripts to identify emerging themes and subthemes.

Results

RNs identified three key limitations of the tools included being too subjective and time-consuming, difficulty in assessing audible swallows, and missing the big picture (e.g., overemphasizing numbers, being a snapshot in time). Suggested improvements focused on maternal characteristics (evolving breasts and nipples, holding it together, “got milk?,” risk factors, embracing the role), infant characteristics (day of life, latch/suck/swallow, baby’s “driving the bus,” risk factors for supplemental feeding), their interaction (two to tango, positioning, better qualitative descriptors), and tool organization (formatting and multiple versions).

Conclusions

RNs suggested novel components for consideration when developing future lactation assessment scales, including removing audible swallowing, adding mother/infant interactions, infant output, and expressible colostrum, and developing criteria specific to infant age. Future research should translate these suggestions into evidence-based indicators and evaluate the resulting proposed tools for reliability and validity.

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