Breastfeeding Adult Learning Experiences: Women’s Stories

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Brann-Barrett, Mary-Tanya
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Breastfeeding is a form of life sustaining work that only women can perform. It is learning and doing that exist within the lifeworld. Much of the work done by women in the homeplace and in their roles as mothers is valuable sustenance labor performed in society. Yet, like other work performed by marginalized people it is often undervalued by those who control the systems in power (Hart, 1992). The knowledge, the language and the understanding women need to help create a successful breastfeeding experience has, in some cases been buried (Dettwyler, 1995; Palmer, 1988). Despite these obstacles there are many mothers who develop methods to breastfeed their children. After years of decline, current statistics boast an increase in the numbers of women who choose to breastfeed in Nova Scotia. While the numbers are still lower in the Cape Breton region there has been a significant increase since 1979. An increased understanding of the value of breastfeeding and the technique required to breastfeed most certainly has influenced the decision of many women to breastfeed. However, a mother’s success is influenced by a myriad of factors. For women who choose to breastfeed, learning the practice of breastfeeding can be a significant adult learning experience. The purpose of this thesis is to explore the adult learning experiences of women living in Industrial Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The focus is twofold. First, adult learning strategies women used to inform themselves about breastfeeding as an infant feeding choice are determined and, second, how these strategies impact the success of their breastfeeding experience is explored. Focus group interviews were selected as the best method of data collection for this particular study. They allow for a substantial amount of data to be collected while also creating a group setting where women could share their stories with other women. Two focus groups of four women from Industrial Cape Breton were conducted. The participants were white, middle to upper-middle income women with varying levels of post-secondary education. Based on the data generated by the women in the study, a breastfeeding adult learning model was developed. It shows the adult learning appeared to progress along a chronological continuum that began when the women first contemplated breastfeeding as an infant- feeding choice and continued often past the weaning stage. There emerged three distinct phases along this continuum: 1) the initiation phase, 2) the lived experience phase, and 3) the retrospection phase. Throughout each phase the women appear to utilize a number of learning approaches which involve knowing, feeling, doing and retrospection, enabling them to learn how to breastfeed and how to tackle the obstacles that they face throughout the process.
Cape Breton , Methods to Breastfeed , Adult Learning Model