A realist review of one-to-one breastfeeding peer support experiments conducted in developed country settings

Heather Trickey* (Corresponding Author), Gill Thomson, Aimee Grant, Julia Sanders, Mala Mann, Simon Murphy, Shantini Paranjothy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


The World Health Organisation guidance recommends breastfeeding peer support (BFPS) as part of a strategy to improve breastfeeding rates. In the UK, BFPS is supported by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance and a variety of models are in use. The experimental evidence for BFPS in developed countries is mixed and traditional methods of systematic review are ill-equipped to explore heterogeneity, complexity, and context influences on effectiveness. This review aimed to enhance learning from the experimental evidence base for one-to-one BFPS intervention. Principles of realist review were applied to intervention case studies associated with published experimental studies. The review aimed (a) to explore heterogeneity in theoretical underpinnings and intervention design for one-to-one BFPS intervention; (b) inform design decisions by identifying transferable lessons developed from cross-case comparison of context-mechanism-outcome relationships; and (c) inform evaluation design by identifying context-mechanism-outcome relationships associated with experimental conditions. Findings highlighted poor attention to intervention theory and considerable heterogeneity in BFPS intervention design. Transferable mid-range theories to inform design emerged, which could be grouped into seven categories: (a) congruence with local infant feeding norms, (b) integration with the existing system of health care, (c) overcoming practical and emotional barriers to access, (d) ensuring friendly, competent, and proactive peers, (e) facilitating authentic peer?mother interactions, (f) motivating peers to ensure positive within-intervention amplification, and (g) ensuring positive legacy and maintenance of gains. There is a need to integrate realist principles into evaluation design to improve our understanding of what forms of BFPS work, for whom and under what circumstances
Original languageEnglish
Article number12559
Number of pages20
JournalMaternal and Child Nutrition
Issue number1
Early online date6 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

University of Cardiff repository


  • breastfeeding
  • complex interventions
  • evaluation
  • infant feeding
  • peer support
  • realist review


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