Australian, Irish and Swedish women's perceptions of what assisted them to breastfeed for six months: exploratory design using critical incident technique

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


BACKGROUND: Breastfeeding initiation rates in some developed countries are high (98 % in Sweden and 96 % in Australia) whereas in others, they are not as favourable (46 % to 55 % in Ireland). Although the World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding for six months, 15 % of Australian women, 11 % of Swedish women and less than 7 % of Irish women achieve this goal. Awareness of what women in different countries perceive as essential breastfeeding support is a gap in our knowledge.

METHODS: Our aim was to explore Australian, Irish and Swedish women's perceptions of what assisted them to continue breastfeeding for six months. An exploratory design using critical incident techniques was used. Recruitment occurred through advertisements in local newspapers and on social networking platforms. Initial sampling was purposive, followed by snowball sampling. Telephone interviews were conducted with 64 Irish, 139 Swedish and 153 Australian women who responded to one question "what has assisted you to continue breastfeeding for at least six months?" Content analysis was conducted and common categories determined to allow comparison of frequencies and priority ranking.

RESULTS: Categories reflected the individual mother, her inner social network, her outer social network (informal support either face to face or online), and societal support (health professionals, work environment and breastfeeding being regarded as the cultural norm). Categories ranked in the top five across the three countries were 'informal face to face support' and 'maternal determination'. Swedish and Australian women ranked "health professional support" higher (first and third respectively) than Irish women who ranked 'informal online support' as second compared to ninth and tenth for Swedish and Australian women.

CONCLUSIONS: The support required to assist breastfeeding women is complex and multi-faceted. Although common international categories were revealed, the ranking of these supportive categories varied. We must recognize how the cultural context of breastfeeding support can vary for women in differing countries and acknowledge the resourcefulness of women who embrace innovations such as social media where face to face formal and informal support are not as accessible.


  • Yvonne L. Hauck
  • Ingrid Blixt
  • Ingegerd Hildingsson
  • Louise Gallagher
  • Christine Rubertsson
  • Brooke Thomson
  • Lucy Lewis
External organisations
  • King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women
  • Uppsala University
  • Trinity College Dublin
  • Curtin University
Research areas and keywords


  • Breastfeeding, International, Prevalence, Professional support, Self-efficacy, Social support
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1067
Number of pages1
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Oct 10
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes