Birth of a very low birth weight preterm infant and the intention to breastfeed 'naturally'.
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Summary An interpretive phenomenological study involving 17 Australian parents was under- taken to explore parents’ experiences of breastfeeding very low birth weight (VLBW) preterm infants from birth to 12 months of age. Data were collected from 45 individual interviews held with both mothers and fathers, which were then transcribed verbatim and analysed using thematic analysis. From this study, the analysis identified the following themes: the intention to breastfeed naturally; breast milk as connection; the maternal role of breast milk producer; breastmilk as the object of attention; breastfeeding and parenting the hospitalised baby and the demise of breastfeeding. The discussion presented here presents the theme of the intention to breastfeed ‘naturally’. This study found that all of the participant women decided to breastfeed well before the preterm birth, and despite the birth of a VLBW preterm infant continued to expect the breastfeeding experience to be normal despite the difference of the postpartum experience. It is without doubt that for these parents the pro-breastfeeding rhetoric is powerfully influential and thus successful in promoting breastfeeding. Furthermore, all participants expected breast- feeding to be ‘natural’ and satisfying. There is disparity between parents’ expectations of breastfeeding ‘naturally’ and the commonplace reality of long-term breast expression and uncertain at-breast feeding outcomes. How the parents came to make the decision to breastfeed their unborn child — including the situations and experiences that have influenced their decision making — and how the preterm birth and the dominant cultures subsequently affected that decision will be discussed. The findings have implications for midwifery education and maternity care professionals who support parents making feeding decisions early in pregnancy and those striving to breastfeed preterm infants.
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