The impact of interpersonal communication on breastfeeding

Jennifer Lorie Alarcon, University of Texas at El Paso


The medical community has offered a lot of evidence in support of breastfeeding which has led to many of the leading medical associations (i.e. the American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization) to recommend breastfeeding infants exclusively for the first six months of life and for at least a full year, up to two years or whatever is mutually desirable to mother and child. However, in the United States, many mothers do not follow this recommendation. Research shows that instances of women being unable to breastfeed exist but are minimal. Many people have attempted to address the problem of low breastfeeding rates because of what the health and cost-saving benefits could mean to the general population. However, approaching the issue of breastfeeding exclusively from a health point of view has not improved breastfeeding rates in the U.S. This study approached the issue from a communicative standpoint. People, especially new mothers, are in constant communication with the world around them. Perhaps the most influential messages come from those close to us. For this reason, 13 mothers participated in focus groups based on how long they breastfed their youngest child (three years of age or younger). These mothers discussed their breastfeeding behaviors and the communicative factors in their lives that had an impact on them. They shared breastfeeding narratives and talked about those in their lives who helped them continue breastfeeding or encouraged them to quit. The findings in this study suggest that the communication of those close to a new mother can impact her decision making in regards to breastfeeding. Some of the important findings that emerged were: the willingness of mothers to stop breastfeeding when loved ones expressed acceptance of that desire, the value of peer and expert support in continuing to breastfeed, the importance of mothers setting goals and having high expectations of themselves, the strength of supportive communication especially when compared to non-supportive communication, the helpfulness of a supportive hospital staff, and the importance of a supportive workplace/employer for mothers returning to work and continuing to breastfeed.

Subject Area

Medicine|Womens studies|Communication

Recommended Citation

Alarcon, Jennifer Lorie, "The impact of interpersonal communication on breastfeeding" (2013). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1552795.