A serial qualitative interview study of infant feeding experiences: idealism meets realism

Pat Hoddinott, Leone C A Craig, Jane Britten, Rhona M McInnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)
14 Downloads (Pure)


Objective To investigate the infant feeding experiences of women and their significant others from pregnancy until 6 months after birth to establish what would make a difference.

Design Qualitative serial interview study.

Setting Two health boards in Scotland.

Participants 72 of 541 invited pregnant women volunteered. 220 interviews approximately every 4 weeks with 36 women, 26 partners, eight maternal mothers, one sister and two health professionals took place.

Results The overarching theme was a clash between overt or covert infant feeding idealism and the reality experienced. This is manifest as pivotal points where families perceive that the only solution that will restore family well-being is to stop breast feeding or introduce solids. Immediate family well-being is the overriding goal rather than theoretical longer term health benefits. Feeding education is perceived as unrealistic, overly technical and rules based which can undermine women's confidence. Unanimously families would prefer the balance to shift away from antenatal theory towards more help immediately after birth and at 3–4 months when solids are being considered. Family-orientated interactive discussions are valued above breastfeeding-centred checklist style encounters.

Conclusions Adopting idealistic global policy goals like exclusive breast feeding until 6 months as individual goals for women is unhelpful. More achievable incremental goals are recommended. Using a proactive family-centred narrative approach to feeding care might enable pivotal points to be anticipated and resolved. More attention to the diverse values, meanings and emotions around infant feeding within families could help to reconcile health ideals with reality.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere000504
Number of pages14
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2012

Bibliographical note

PMID: 22422915 [PubMed] PMCID: PMC3307036 Free PMC Article


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