Despite current recommendations, appropriate encouragement from healthcare providers, and known health benefits of breastfeeding, most employed mothers do not breastfeed in the US. Traditionally, focusing on promoting health benefits is considered the most important aspect of health promotion and is the dominant discourse in encouraging breastfeeding. It is presumptuous for health professionals to believe that simply providing knowledge of the health benefits of breastfeeding will increase breastfeeding rates without a critical examination of social and cultural influences that hinder breastfeeding in employed mothers.The purpose of this study is to describe the experience of employed breastfeeding mothers. Using a phenomenological approach, the researcher completed 13 interviews in which mothers with experience working full-time while breastfeeding were asked to describe their experiences. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed using a hermeneutical approach developed by Pollio and applied to nursing research by Thomas. Participants experienced the world of the workplace as largely unsupportive and grounded in the context of time. An encompassing central theme of “there’s conflict” was present as participants described the emotional, social, and physical conflicts they encountered. Three overlapping themes manifested within the encompassing theme including: (1) “As your priority, it consumes you”; (2) “At work, it’s just different” (3)” I’ve accomplished something here. “Each theme revealed a unique context of “there’s conflict.” The theme “At work, it is just different” contained five interrelated subthemes: (1) “veil yourself;” (2) “if they would just let me;” (3) “not what I expected;” (4) “You have to be brave.”This research supports previous findings that workplace is largely unsupportive of breastfeeding mothers and that conflicts arise while trying to be both a “good” mother and a “good” employee and, offers a rich understanding and intensified awareness of the everyday realities of employed breastfeeding mothers. Despite feeling frustrated and exhausted and encountering significant opposing forces, these mothers demonstrate a commitment to providing their infants with optimal nutrition and feel a sense of accomplishment and reward in doing so. While the overall discouraging and negative experiences reported in combining breastfeeding and employment is not new, what is new is the level social understanding rooted in their words and a new insight into the complexities of embodiment and the social and emotional conflict they experience in trying to enact their ethical identity as a mother. This presents many social, education, practice, research, and policy implications to support breastfeeding and overall pediatric health.
© 2014 Published by Elsevier Inc.