The Meaning of Breastfeeding Support for Six New Zealand Women in the First Six Weeks Postpartum
Research has found that any support given to a breastfeeding woman will positively impact on the initiation and duration of her breastfeeding. While much of the research that examines breastfeeding is focused on the need to improve support for breastfeeding women, there has been a lack of clear understanding on what constitutes support. The research statement for this study was “The meaning of breastfeeding support for six New Zealand women in the first six weeks postpartum.” Van Manen’s (1990) steps for data analysis guided the interpretation for this study, and a hermeneutic thematic analysis explored the meaning of breastfeeding support for six New Zealand women.
Three themes were identified from the data analysis: ‘Being With’, which is more than being physically present, it is an active engagement with the woman. ‘Breastfeeding Culture’, which acknowledges that no woman breastfeeds alone. There are family, friends and others whose beliefs, traditions, and their own interpretation of breastfeeding all impact on the woman’s breastfeeding experience. ‘Breastfeeding Space’ is the third theme, and this describes not only the physical space, but also the emotional space a woman breastfeeds in. When the Breastfeeding Space was comfortable and they felt in control of the space, the women in the study felt supported to breastfeed.
A new finding, which was not a theme but rather a thread drawn from the themes, was the notion of a Breastfeeding Triad. The Breastfeeding Triad included a breastfeeding mother, her partner, and their baby. The Breastfeeding Triad was found to be relational, incorporating the authentic presence of ‘Being With’ and adding to it. When family, friends and health professionals support the Breastfeeding Triad, this strengthens the breastfeeding relationship itself. There are several implications for practice from the findings. For those in a position of decision-making within hospitals, the environment needs to be a priority when planning new rooms. It is difficult for women to feel in control of their Breastfeeding Space when they must share a room or bathroom, or when they want their partners to stay but the hospital does not support this.
Health professionals could benefit from the findings by acknowledging the Breastfeeding Culture that surrounds a breastfeeding woman. By including her whānau/family and other support people, a link can be made between the breastfeeding woman and those who will be providing ongoing support to her once the health professional is no longer part of her care. For those involved in antenatal and breastfeeding education, partners could be included and given information that is specific to them. These findings could also benefit students by giving them a clearer understanding of what it is that supports New Zealand women to breastfeed in the first six weeks postpartum.