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

Maria Herron*, Marlene Sinclair, George Kernohan, Janine Stockdale

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Background: Due in part to increased use of formula to feed babies, breastfeeding skills have been lost in many communities across the world. Health 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.
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 online breastfeeding support (OBS) that would traditionally have been provided by mothers, grandmothers, sisters and friends. Skilfully-moderated mother-to-mother online breastfeeding support provides an easily accessible, responsive system which provides tailored support from more experienced mothers 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.


ConferenceTransforming Healthcare in a Changing World: New Ways of Thinking and Working". Trinity Health and Education International Research Conference
Abbreviated titleThe Conf2021
Internet address


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