Infant Feeding Exposure and Personal Experiences of African American Mothers

Breastfeed Med. 2021 Feb;16(2):124-130. doi: 10.1089/bfm.2020.0073. Epub 2020 Jul 31.


Background: Although exposure and personal experiences can guide breastfeeding decisions, the extant research on African American mothers is limited regarding the influence of infant feeding exposure. The persistent race-based breastfeeding disparities also underscore the lack of effective interventions to support breastfeeding among African Americans. Objective: To describe infant feeding exposure and personal experiences of African American mothers in the Midwestern United States with regard to decision making about breastfeeding behavior. Materials and Methods: Thirty individual qualitative interviews using a semistructured interview guide were conducted with African American mothers ≥18 years old with an infant 1-6 months of age. Interviews addressed participants' breastfeeding and formula feeding decisions. Data were coded line by line using thematic analysis. Results: Positive exposure to breastfeeding and health care providers' prenatal advice influenced nearly all participants to try breastfeeding. However, breastfeeding experiences were unexpected, they did not know how to handle challenges, and nearly half did not continue. Five central themes important to their decision-making processes were identified in the data including contact with breastfeeding mothers, guidance from health care providers, navigating the demands of breastfeeding, making the switch to formula, and my own research. Conclusion: Our findings support the importance of both prenatal and postnatal education, the influence of health care providers, and the impact of close social role models. Appropriate education about realistic breastfeeding information is needed to support African American mothers in their breastfeeding decision making. The high use of the Internet to access information also emphasizes the potential opportunity for breastfeeding interventions delivered through technology.

Keywords: African American mothers; breastfeeding; exposure; infant feeding; qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Black or African American
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mothers*
  • Pregnancy
  • Qualitative Research