Impact of birth trauma on breast-feeding: a tale of two pathways

Nurs Res. 2008 Jul-Aug;57(4):228-36. doi: 10.1097/01.NNR.0000313494.87282.90.


Background: Up to 34% of new mothers have reported experiencing a traumatic childbirth. Documented risk factors for delayed or failed lactogenesis include stressful labor and delivery, unscheduled cesarean births, and psychosocial stress and pain related to childbirth.

Objective: To explore the impact of birth trauma on mothers' breast-feeding experiences.

Methods: Phenomenology was the qualitative research design used to investigate mothers' breast-feeding experiences after birth trauma. Fifty-two women were recruited over the Internet through the assistance of Trauma and Birth Stress, a charitable trust located in New Zealand. Each mother sent her breast-feeding story to the researchers via the Internet. Colaizzi's (1978) method was used to analyze the data.

Results: Eight themes emerged about whether mothers' breast-feeding attempts were promoted or impeded. These themes included (a) proving oneself as a mother: sheer determination to succeed, (b) making up for an awful arrival: atonement to the baby, (c) helping to heal mentally: time-out from the pain in one's head, (d) just one more thing to be violated: mothers' breasts, (e) enduring the physical pain: seeming at times an insurmountable ordeal, (f) dangerous mix: birth trauma and insufficient milk supply, (g) intruding flashbacks: stealing anticipated joy, and (h) disturbing detachment: an empty affair.

Conclusions: The impact of birth trauma on mothers' breast-feeding experiences can lead women down two strikingly different paths. One path can propel women into persevering in breast-feeding, whereas the other path can lead to distressing impediments that curtailed women's breast-feeding attempts.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding / psychology*
  • Delivery, Obstetric / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress, Psychological*