Constraints on Breastfeeding Choices for Low Income Mothers

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Hurst, Carol Grace
breastfeeding; health disparity; low income mother; Social and Behavioral Sciences; Social Work
thesis / dissertation description
The choice to breastfeed a baby is a woman's concern with impact reaching beyond each individual mother and child to longer term health and mental health outcomes for society. The U.S. government has made increasing breastfeeding rates one of its major public health goals for 2010. Breastfeeding is a health disparity issue with mothers who are poor, young, less educated or Black less likely to breastfeed. This project examined impacts of sexual perceptions of breastfeeding, social support, and work on breastfeeding choices made by a sample of low income mothers. A cross-sectional survey design was employed to examine potential barriers to breastfeeding experienced by a random sample of mothers served by the federal nutrition support program WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) in a geographically central region of Virginia. WIC is the federal nutrition support program for low income pregnant women, infants, and young children. A survey questionnaire was completed through structured interviews or mailed questionnaires with WIC participant mothers with a baby between 6 and 18 months of age. Both breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers were included in the sample. One hundred and forty mothers identified their infant feeding choices in their babies' first six months. They answered questions about positive and negative breastfeeding experiences related to social support, work, and their attitudes regarding public breastfeeding and sexual perceptions of breastfeeding. The creation of a scale to measure sexual perceptions of breastfeeding is a primary contribution of the study. Social support, work, and sexual perception variables as well as demographic variables were used in logistic and linear regression models to explain mothers' breastfeeding initiation and breastfeeding duration choices. Further, mothers also expressed their perspectives on breastfeeding choices and experiences in their own words through open-ended questions in the survey/interview.Results of the study found that social and professional support, discomfort with public breastfeeding, time spent away from baby for work, not being married or partnered, and possessing a lower level of education did constrain the initiation and/or duration of breastfeeding for this low income sample of mothers. Qualitative data added description of mothers' experiences with these breastfeeding constraints.