Tapping into online breastfeeding support: what can we learn from this phenomenon?

Maria Herron, W.George Kernohan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

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Background: Due in part to increased use of formula to feed babies, breastfeeding skills have been lost in many communities across the world. Healthcare providers and researchers strive to identify innovative solutions to encourage more women to initiate and sustain breastfeeding. Breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition to babies as well as personalised medicine which can protect against many illnesses and infections including Covid-19. Breastfeeding also bestows numerous benefits to mums including lowering their risk of breast cancer, diabetes and obesity.
Aim: The aim of this study was explore the self-directed behaviours of women in relation to breastfeeding support in the online environment.
Objectives: To undertake an unobtrusive observational study of online breastfeeding forums (permission obtained from Netmums) initially for 3 months, then extended to a year (ethical approval granted by Ulster University). Findings were verified through interviews with mothers who had used similar fora or social media for breastfeeding support.
Description of innovation: Women are using the internet in an innovative way to recreate the circle of breastfeeding support that would traditionally have been provided by mothers, grandmothers, sisters and friends. Skilfully-moderated mother-to-mother online breastfeeding support (OBS) provides an easily accessible, responsive system which offers tailored support from more experienced mothers (and others) in a nurturing learning environment.

Impact of innovation: OBS enabled women to reconstruct their breastfeeding challenges and explore solutions, and this engagement could sometimes be seen to impact on breastfeeding outcomes; OBS provided a bridge to face-to-face support particularly in relation to physical issues such as poor latching or tongue-tie; it also led to interest and debate on perceived alternative parenting approaches such as co-sleeping and baby-led weaning. A key feature of OBS was generalised reciprocity whereby women who had initially sought help, returned to the circle with experiential knowledge willing to help others.
Conclusions and implications: OBS offers a platform where mothers can seek and provide breastfeeding support; it also offers valuable insights into where gaps exist in real life support. Service providers tasked with supporting women to breastfeed could benefit from engaging with such fora to develop local solutions to breastfeeding support challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTrinity Health and Education International Research Conference 2021 (THEconf2021)
Subtitle of host publicationTransforming healthcare in a changing world: new ways of thinking and working
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 9 Mar 2021
EventTrinity Health and Education International Conference: Transforming healthcare in a changing world: new ways of thinking and working -
Duration: 9 Mar 202111 Mar 2021


ConferenceTrinity Health and Education International Conference

Bibliographical note

Presentation continues the work started by Dr Herron as a PhD researcher


  • breastfeeding


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