Making use of expertise: A qualitative analysis of the experience of breastfeeding support for first-time mothers

Dawn Leeming, Iain Williamson, Sally Johnson, Steven Lyttle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


There is now a body of research evaluating breastfeeding interventions and exploring mothers' and health professionals' views on effective and ineffective breastfeeding support. However, this literature leaves relatively unexplored a number of questions about how breastfeeding women experience and make sense of their relationships with those trained to provide breastfeeding support. The present study collected qualitative data from 22 breastfeeding first-time mothers in the United Kingdom on their experiences of, and orientation towards, relationships with maternity care professionals and other breastfeeding advisors. The data were obtained from interviews and audio-diaries at two time points during the first 5 weeks post-partum. We discuss a key theme within the data of 'Making use of expertise' and three subthemes that capture the way in which the women's orientation towards those assumed to have breastfeeding expertise varied according to whether the women (1) adopted a position of consulting experts vs. one of deferring to feeding authorities; (2) experienced difficulty interpreting their own and their baby's bodies; and (3) experienced the expertise of health workers as empowering or disempowering. Although sometimes mothers felt empowered by aligning themselves with the scientific approach and 'normalising gaze' of health care professionals, at other times this gaze could be experienced as objectifying and diminishing. The merits and limitations of a person-centred approach to breastfeeding support are discussed in relation to using breastfeeding expertise in an empowering rather than disempowering way.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-702
Number of pages16
JournalMaternal and Child Nutrition
Issue number4
Early online date5 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015


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