A Meta-ethnographic Synthesis of Women's Experience of Breastfeeding

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This article was originally published as:

Burns, E., Schmied, V., Sheehan, A., & Fenwick, J. (2010). A meta-ethnographic synthesis of women's experience of breastfeeding. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 6(3), 201-219. doi: 10.1111/j.1740-8709.2009.00209.x

ISSN: 1740-8709

DOI: 10.1111/j.1740-8709.2009.00209.x


Despite considerable evidence and effort, breastfeeding duration rates in resource-rich countries such as Australia remain below World Health Organization recommendations. The literature on the experience of breastfeeding indicates that women construct and experience breastfeeding differently depending upon their own personal circumstances and the culture within which they live. Breastfeeding has also been described as a deeply personal experience, which can be associated with ‘moral’ decision-making. The aim of this synthesis was to better understand the social phenomenon of breastfeeding by making the hidden obvious. Using a meta-ethnographic approach, we analysed the findings from 17 qualitative studies exploring women's experience of breastfeeding. Commonly used metaphors, ideas and phrases across the national and international qualitative studies were identified. Two overarching themes emerged. Breastfeeding was described in terms of ‘expectation’ and ‘reality’, while the emotional aspects of breastfeeding were expressed in ‘connected’ or ‘disconnected’ terms. The prevalence of health professionals and public health discourses in the language women use to describe their experience, and the subsequent impact of this on maternal confidence and self-assessment of breastfeeding are discussed. This synthesis provides insight into some of the subtle ways health professionals can build maternal confidence and improve the experience of early mothering.


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