An interpretive phenomenological analysis of the experiences of mothers who continue to breastfeed despite facing difficulties

Michelle Hacking, Leanne Jackson, Victoria Fallon, Joanne A. Harrold, Philippa Davie, Sergio A. Silverio*, Pauline Slade

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: Breastfeeding offers many health benefits to mother and infant. Problem: Breastfeeding difficulties are common and are linked with postnatal distress. Aim: To explore the lived experiences of breastfeeding continuation despite facing difficulties. Methods: Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight women who had experienced breastfeeding difficulties yet continued breastfeeding. Interviews were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Findings: The first superordinate theme, ‘Radical acceptance of the imperfect’ included sub-themes of: ‘Taking it day-by-day’, ‘Breastfeeding takes a community’, and, ‘Finding what works for you’. The second superordinate theme, ‘Determination and persistence’ included sub-themes of: ‘Adopting a headstrong attitude’ and ‘Transient challenges versus lifelong achievement’. Discussion: Participants found radical acceptance of breastfeeding as an imperfect, variable process which enabled them to sustain breastfeeding despite challenges. Participants proactively drew on social and personal resources to navigate guidance and to find solutions which worked for their individual circumstances. Finally, open-mindedness, optimism, self-compassion, and being headstrong and determined were all personal qualities which facilitated breastfeeding during exceptionally difficult moments on their breastfeeding journey. Conclusion: Recommendations are made for healthcare professionals: to provide emotional counselling during routine care (with an aim to instil breastfeeding self-efficacy) and to encourage breastfeeding advocacy among fathers and the maternal social support network (with an aim to further scaffold successful breastfeeding). Recommendations are also made for mothers: to develop and refine maternal confidence, patience, flexibility, self-compassion, and trust.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-393
Number of pages7
JournalWomen and Birth
Issue number2
Early online date20 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2024


  • Breastfeeding difficulties
  • Continued breastfeeding
  • Emotional impact
  • Qualitative
  • Postnatal Distress


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