The private journey: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of exclusive breastfeeding

Samantha J. Charlick, Lois McKellar, Andrea L. Gordon, Jan Pincombe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Exclusive breast milk provides complete nutrition for a baby's first six months of life. In Australia, breastfeeding initiation rates are high, however duration rates are low. Although numerous studies have explored the reasons behind low levels of breastfeeding, few have examined the experiences of women who maintain exclusive breastfeeding for the recommended six-month duration. Aim: This paper will present an in-depth, idiographic interpretation of first-time mothers’ experience of exclusive breastfeeding for six months in Australia. Method: Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to explore how five new mothers understood their six-month exclusive breastfeeding journey. Face-to-face, semi-structured interviews were conducted retrospectively, transcribed in full, and analysed using the flexible seven-step approach of interpretative phenomenological analysis. Findings: Three higher-order themes were identified: (1) exclusive breastfeeding is a personal choice, (2) exclusive breastfeeding is harder than expected, and (3) everyone has something to say about breastfeeding. Conclusion: The mothers were not prepared for public debates around infant feeding methods, where mothers judge each other and give advice that supports their own goals, both of which create an unnecessary divide between mothers. Despite these issues, the findings highlight the personal and social meanings aligned with exclusive breastfeeding and point to the significance in fostering determination as a means to achieve exclusive breastfeeding goals. This qualitative reflection contributes a nuanced understanding of mothers’ lived experience of exclusive breastfeeding, deepening our understanding and enabling appropriate strategies and support for the longevity of exclusive breastfeeding, as well as direction for continued research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalWomen and Birth
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Breastfeeding duration
  • Determination
  • Exclusive breastfeeding
  • Interpretative phenomenological analysis
  • Women's experiences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Maternity and Midwifery


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