Pressure and judgement within a dichotomous landscape of infant feeding: a grounded theory study to explore why breastfeeding women do not access peer support provision

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Lack of support is reported as a key reason for early breastfeeding cessation. While breastfeeding peer support (BPS) is a recommended intervention to increase breastfeeding rates, a number of studies identify that engagement with BPS is problematic. Due to paucity of research in this area, this study explores why breastfeeding women do not access BPS in South-West England. Utilising a constructionist grounded theory approach, 33 participants (women (n = 13), health professionals (n = 6) and peer supporters (n = 14)) participated in a semi-structured interview (n = 22) or focus group (n = 11). Analysis involved open coding, constant comparisons and focussed coding.

One core category and three main themes explicating non-access were identified. The core category concerns women's experiences of pressure and judgement around their feeding decisions within a dichotomous landscape of infant feeding language and support. Theme one, ‘place and space of support’, describes the contrast between perceived pressure to breastfeed and a lack of adequate and appropriate support. Theme two, ‘one way or no way’, outlines the rules-based approach to breastfeeding adopted by some health professionals and how women avoided BPS due to anticipating a similar approach. Theme three, ‘it must be me’, concerns how lack of embodied insights could lead to ‘breastfeeding failure’ identities. A background of dichotomised language, pressure and moral judgement, combined with the organisation of post-natal care and the model of breastfeeding adopted by health professionals, may inhibit women's access to BPS. A socio-cultural model of breastfeeding support providing clear messages regarding the value and purpose of BPS should be adopted.

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