Helpful and challenging aspects of breastfeeding in public for women living in Australia, Ireland and Sweden: A cross-sectional study
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© The Author(s). 2020 Published in International Breastfeeding Journal. This article is published under the Open Access publishing model and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. Please refer to the licence to obtain terms for any further reuse or distribution of this work.
Background: Breastfeeding in public continues to be contentious with qualitative evidence confirming that women face many challenges. It is therefore important to gain understanding of not only the challenges but also what women perceive is helpful to breastfeed in public.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted with women living in Australia, Ireland or Sweden currently breastfeeding or having breastfed within the previous 2 years. Our objective was to explore and compare what women do when faced with having to breastfeed in the presence of someone they are uncomfortable with and what women think is helpful and challenging when considering whether to breastfeed in public. Data were collected in 2018 from an online survey over a 4 week period in each country. Content analysis revealed data similarity and theme names and definitions were negotiated until consensus was reached. How often each theme was cited was counted to report frequencies. Helpful and challenging aspects were also ranked by women to allow international comparison.
Results: Ten themes emerged around women facing someone they were uncomfortable to breastfeed in the presence of with the most frequently cited being: 'made the effort to be discreet'; 'moved to a private location'; 'turned away' and 'just got on with breastfeeding'. Nine themes captured challenges to breastfeed in public with the following ranked in the top five across countries: 'unwanted attention'; 'no comfortable place to sit'; 'environment not suitable'; 'awkward audience' and 'not wearing appropriate clothing'. Nine themes revealed what was helpful to breastfeed in public with the top five: 'supportive network'; 'quiet private suitable environment'; 'comfortable seating'; 'understanding and acceptance of others' and 'seeing other mothers' breastfeed'.
Conclusions: When breastfeeding in public women are challenged by shared concerns around unwanted attention, coping with an awkward audience and unsuitable environments. Women want to feel comfortable when breastfeeding in a public space. How women respond to situations where they are uncomfortable is counterproductive to what they share would be helpful, namely seeing other mothers breastfeed. Themes reveal issues beyond the control of the individual and highlight how the support required by breastfeeding women is a public health responsibility.
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