A Western Sydney University study has shed new light on the ways that mothers use social media for breastfeeding support.
As part of a PhD study, researchers analysed how mothers use social networking sites, such as Facebook, to seek support for breastfeeding issues – and how other users provide support and respond to their queries.
Nicole Bridges, a PhD Candidate from the University’s School of Humanities and Communication Arts, said while the experiences, perceptions and support needs of breastfeeding mothers have been extensively studied, little was known about the specific breastfeeding topics that women investigate via social networks.
Drawing on data from 15 closed Facebook groups associated with the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA), the study found:
- The majority (42%) of breastfeeding queries related to issues with breastfeeding management, including the physical management of breastfeeding, feeding to sleep, breast refusal, positioning and attachment, mastitis and others.
- The second most popular topic was breastfeeding and health (19% of queries). This included questions about the protective benefits of breastfeeding, breastfeeding during baby’s illness, mother’s diet while breastfeeding, illness while breastfeeding, food intolerances, dieting and menstruation.
- Another popular discussion topic was breastfeeding and work (15% of queries) This included discussions about breast pump hire, expressing and storing breastmilk, caregivers and the breastfed baby, and leaving breastfed babies for prolonged periods of time.
Ms Bridges said the findings mirror research in the US and other high-income countries, which show these three topic areas – breastfeeding management, health and work – are important factors in the mother’s decision to stop breastfeeding during the first year.
“These themes are commonly indicated as areas in which breastfeeding mothers need support, in order to meet their breastfeeding goals,” said Ms Bridges.
Ms Bridges, who is also a Public Relations Lecturer at the University, said the findings indicate that closed Facebook groups provide both informational and emotional support to breastfeeding mothers, and group administrators also play a vital role in both responding to queries and enforcing compliance with the ABA’s Code of Ethics.
“The online environment of a mother’s peer group creates a female-centric community of support,” said Ms Bridges.
“Among the most effective types of breastfeeding support is the feeling of an ‘authentic presence’ which indicates a trusted relationship and connection or rapport between the woman and peer supporters, and the ‘facilitative style’, which enables people to draw on a range of information and learn for themselves.
“The research found that social networking sites facilitated by trained peer breastfeeding counsellors provide an effective platform for both authentic presence and facilitative style. More research, however, is needed to directly compare the effectiveness of face-to-face breastfeeding support with online support groups.
“Women use their own experiences of mothering to help themselves and one another. They provide informational and emotional support, such as exchanging information, and providing encouragement, empathy and examples of similar experiences. While the potential of social media has been explored as an effective tool for health communication, none of the previous research specifically analysed its use in relation to breastfeeding.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for around six months, and for breastfeeding to continue for two years and beyond.
(Source: Western Sydney University)