Turning policy into practice: more difficult than it seems. The case of breastfeeding education

Mary Smale, Mary J. Renfrew, Joyce L. Marshall, Helen Spiby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Breastfeeding is increasingly recognized as a health policy priority. To achieve real change in breastfeeding rates, those who advise and support childbearing women need to be appropriately educated and trained so that they do not disrupt breastfeeding. The aim of this study was to conduct a needs analysis about breastfeeding training among a range of people who advise and support breastfeeding women, including breastfeeding women themselves, to contribute to future provision of education. A qualitative, interview-based study was conducted in one northern UK city with practitioners who support breastfeeding, and breastfeeding women, selected using purposive sampling. Individual (n =73) and group (n = 9) interviews were conducted. Detailed notes were returned to each respondent for checking. Information was organized into themes. Coding was charted to enable comparison by theme and case. Four main themes emerged: perspectives of breastfeeding women; feeling (un)prepared to support breastfeeding; fragmentation of knowledge; and provision of education about breastfeeding. A deficit in education and training for all professional groups was identified. There was little evidence of informal shared learning among professional groups, and no evidence of usual mechanisms to ensure education and practice standards. Doctors received very little formal education; most relied on other health professionals to provide this expertise. Students encountered a chaotic learning environment where it was not possible to observe sound, consistent practice. Voluntary breastfeeding supporters felt well-prepared. The results call into question the potential for health services to respond to policy recommendations that support increased rates of breastfeeding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-113
Number of pages11
JournalMaternal and Child Nutrition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2006
Externally publishedYes


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