Breastfeeding experience among Chinese mothers: a qualitative study

Title: Breastfeeding experience, challenges and service demands among Chinese mothers: a qualitative study in two cities

Authors: Yan Zhang,Yi (Wendy) Jin, Carel Vereijken, Bernd Stahl, Hong Jiang
Published: 2018


Breastfeeding has many benefits for both mother and child. In China breastfeeding rates are far from satisfactory with exclusive breastfeeding rates of 20.8 % at 6 months. This study aimed to investigate the experience, challenges and needs of mothers regarding breastfeeding.

The study took place in 2 cities in China. Shanghai is a mega-city in East China. Weifang is a large city 600 km further north and has, compared to Shanghai, lower per capita income. A total of 20 interviews and 10 focus groups with 6 women in each group was conducted. Furthermore, 12 health care professionals were interviewed. All interviews and focus groups were transcribed in Chinese. The transcripts were then coded and analysed using standard NVIVO software for qualitative analysis.

Differences between the 2 cities were limited. In general, five phases were uncovered in the journey from pregnancy to complementary feeding.
1- Preparation during pregnancy. There was a strong intention to breastfeed but little time to acquire knowledge and skills. Many women also worried about the risk of not having enough milk.
2- Childbirth and first days. Mothers felt that the support they received from professionals in the hospital was insufficient.
3- Self-exploration from hospital to 4 months. Mothers experienced breastfeeding problems while support from professionals and family was limited in time and/or in quality.
4- Transition from 4 to 6 months. Those who returned to work experienced challenges at work such as unsupportive superiors. In general, breastfeeding in public places was felt to be embarrassing.
5- Complementary feeding. In contrast to earlier phases when mothers were concerned about the quantity of their milk, in this phase they were concerned about the quality: it was regarded to be no longer of sufficient quality. This and a desire to return to their former lifestyle were reasons to stop breastfeeding.

This study investigated the problems and needs which women in China have regarding breastfeeding. The results will be shared with health care professionals and others who may play a role in supporting breastfeeding to highlight the issues and provide data which can be used to develop solutions.

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Reference: Yan Zhang, Yi Jin, Carel Vereijken, Bernd Stahl, Hong Jiang, Breastfeeding experience, challenges and service demands among Chinese mothers: A qualitative study in two cities, Appetite, Volume 128, 2018, P 263-270.