Maternal experiences of embodied emotional sensations during breast feeding: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

Midwifery. 2016 May;36:53-60. doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2016.02.019. Epub 2016 Mar 4.


Objective: the purpose of this study was to explore mothers׳ experiences of embodied emotional sensations during breast feeding and to understand the meaning and consequences that such experiences may have on mothers' sense of self and the relationships they form with their children.

Design: a qualitative design was applied to this study as it was judged as the most appropriate approach to this novel field of enquiry.

Setting: the study was conducted in United Kingdom using a sample of mothers drawn from five different countries from Europe, America and Australia.

Participants: the sample consisted of 11 mothers who reported experiencing or having experienced negative embodied emotional sensations associated with breast feeding in the past five years.

Measurements: semi-structured interviews were conducted with the mothers and interviews were transcribed to enable the process of data analysis. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA; Smith et al., 2009a, 2009b) was chosen as a method of data analysis, enabling in depth understanding and interpretation of the meaning of mothers' experiences. IPA was chosen due to its idiographic commitment and particular interest in sense-making, phenomenology and hermeneutics.

Findings: three themes were generated reflecting the multifaceted nature of breast feeding experiences (i) 'Breast feeding: An unexpected trigger of intense embodied emotional sensations incongruent with view of self', (ii) 'Fulfilling maternal expectations and maintaining closeness with the child', (iii) 'Making sense of embodied emotional sensations essential to acceptance and coping'.

Conclusions: breast feeding has the potential to trigger a range of conflicting cognitions and emotions in mothers that may impact on how mothers view themselves and relate to their children.

Implications for practice: increasing awareness about emotional breast feeding experiences and recognising the multifaceted, individual nature of difficulties around breast feeding enables professionals to offer mothers person-centred care and avoid making clinical decisions and recommendations based on inaccurate knowledge.

Keywords: Breast feeding; D-MER; Negative feelings; Nursing aversion; Qualitative methods.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Qualitative Research