A Meta-Synthesis Examining the Role of Shame in Support for Breastfeeding Mothers.

  • Joyce Marshall (Speaker)
  • Dawn Leeming (Contributor to Paper or Presentation)
  • Hinsliff, S. (Contributor to Paper or Presentation)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Professional and peer support has been shown to increase the length of time mothers continue to breastfeed but less is known about their experiences of support and the elements of it that are considered helpful. Previous discussions of mothers’ emotional responses to encountering challenges whilst breastfeeding have suggested that this leads to feelings of guilt, however, feelings of shame related to a sense of failure or inadequacy as a mother may have the potential to be more destructive to mothers’ self-identity and sense of well-being. Understanding the concept of shame in relation to breastfeeding support, and how supporters might help women to resist shame, has the potential to improve care.
To explore the concept of shame in relation to women’s experiences of breastfeeding support.
A systematic literature search was conducted for qualitative studies of support for breastfeeding mothers from 2007 to 2016. Findings from these studies were analysed using Template Analysis informed by Gilbert’s interpersonal model of guilt and shame, Nathanson’s ‘Compass of shame’ and Brown’s ‘Shame Resilience Theory’.
Ethical approval was not needed for this study.
Key findings
The moral and ‘natural motherhood’ discourses around infant feeding can create potential for shame, and for some women breastfeeding can become a test of whether they are a good enough mother. Relationships with health care professionals can unintentionally shame mothers further, leading to withdrawal from a professional gaze perceived as critical, or alternatively can support mothers in becoming resilient to shame. Verbalising difficulties can help women to resist shame and demonstrates the merging of technical and emotional support.
Recommendations will be made about how those supporting breastfeeding mothers might help mothers resist and repair feelings of shame, and the qualities of the relationship which are likely to make this possible.
Period18 Jun 201722 Jun 2017
Event title31st International Confederation of Midwives Triennial Congress: Midwives - Making a Difference in the World
Event typeConference
Conference number31
LocationToronto, Canada, OntarioShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational