Aim: This paper is a report of a study of the breastfeeding experience of mothers of very low birth weight babies.
Background: Very low birth weight babies, being born preterm, are at risk for feeding difficulties. Medical complications may prolong their hospital stays and further delay their progression towards oral feeding. Many studies have focused on the benefits of breastfeeding to very low birth weight babies, but very few have explored the breastfeeding experiences of their mothers.
Method: Data were collected between 2005 and 2007. In-depth interviews were conducted during home visits with 31 mothers who breastfed their very low birth weight babies. Following her baby's discharge from hospital, each mother was interviewed twice about her breastfeeding experience. The data were analysed using qualitative content analysis.
Findings: Five themes were identified from the mothers' reports: wanting to compensate, maintaining motivation and connectedness, needing 'extra helping hands', controlling emotions and matching baby's individual pace. Mothers' self-blaming provoked them to breastfeed their very low birth weight babies to compensate babies for the harm caused by them. These mothers learned how to express breast milk and this served as an important vehicle that gradually connected them to their babies.
Conclusion: Breastfeeding a very low birth weight baby is a challenging and exhausting experience for the mother. A better teaching protocol for breastfeeding and an improved breastfeeding ethos need to be implemented in the neonatal intensive care unit and special care nursery to support families of very low birth weight infants.