Breast-feeding difficulties experienced by women taking part in a qualitative interview study of postnatal depression

Midwifery. 2004 Sep;20(3):251-60. doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2003.12.011.


Objective: to explore how women experience breast-feeding difficulties. This theme emerged unexpectedly during a study of women's experiences of screening with the Edinburgh postnatal depression scale (EPDS) and subsequent care from primary health-care professionals.

Design: qualitative in-depth interview study.

Setting: postnatal women of 22 general practices within Oxford City Primary Care Group area.

Participants: 39 postnatal women from a purposeful sample were interviewed at an average of 15 months postnatal. They were chosen from different general practices and with a range of emotional difficulties after birth, judged using EPDS results at eight weeks and eight months postnatal, and whether they received 'listening visits' from health visitors.

Measurements and findings: a qualitative thematic analysis was used, including searches for anticipated and emergent themes. Fifteen women had breast-feeding difficulties. Five themes emerged which explore the difficulties. Firstly, commitment to breast feeding and high expectations of success; secondly, unexpected difficulties; thirdly, seeking professional support for difficulties; fourthly, finding a way to cope; and fifthly, guilt.

Key conclusions: in this study breast-feeding difficulties were common, caused emotional distress and interactions with professionals could be difficult. Current breast-feeding policy, such as the 'Baby Friendly Initiative', may be a contributing factor. This needs to be explored in a further study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding* / adverse effects
  • Breast Feeding* / psychology*
  • Depression, Postpartum / psychology*
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Midwifery / standards*
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Nurse's Role*
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Postnatal Care / methods
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / nursing*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires