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Exploring Women's Experiences of Breast-Feeding and Mastitis and the Impact of Formal and Informal Support

Chapman, B. (2017). Exploring Women's Experiences of Breast-Feeding and Mastitis and the Impact of Formal and Informal Support. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Objective: Mastitis is a common and painful condition experienced in up to 33% of breast-feeding women (Cusack & Brennan, 2011; Jahanfar, Ng & Teng, 2009; Scott, Robertson, Fitzpaterick, Knight, & Mulholland, 2008; Spencer, 2008). The period following having a baby may be emotionally and physically demanding due to the physical, hormonal and lifestyle changes a woman undergoes (Cusack & Brennan, 2011). Developing mastitis during this time may therefore be debilitating and has been found to be a common reason for discontinuing breastfeeding. This study aimed to explore women’s experiences of breast-feeding and mastitis, the formal and informal support that was available to them when they had mastitis, and the impact it had on whether they continued or discontinued breastfeeding (Amir, Forster, Lumley & McLachlan, 2007; Cleminson, Oddie, Renfrew & McGuire, 2015).

Method: Grounded theory was used to analyse the data. Sixteen women who had experienced mastitis were included in the study.

Results: All of the women intended to breast-feed. However, they often experienced problems early on (i.e. engorgement and nipple damage) that were unexpected and left them feeling exhausted and emotional. These problems precipitated mastitis. Mastitis was for most, a very difficult experience sometimes leading to discontinuation of breast-feeding. Delaying help-seeking negatively affected health outcomes. Determination and receiving good advice and support were fundamental factors in breast-feeding continuation.

Conclusion: Improved support, communication, and advice with breast-feeding from the outset would reduce the risk of problems occurring and persisting, and potentially reduce the risk of mastitis developing. Early diagnosis and treatment of mastitis once it has developed is very important. Understanding that breast-feeding is a skill that often encompasses both ups and downs may reduce the pressure women put on themselves when they feel like they are failing because it is not going as well as they expected it to. Once mastered, women found breast-feeding to be a lovely bonding experience that exceeded their expectations.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RG Gynecology and obstetrics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Chapman, Beatrice (redacted).pdf]
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