Catherine Ma is an assistant professor of psychology at Kingsborough Community
College and her love of teaching parallels her love of research on breastfeeding. Her research expertise focuses on breastfeeding ideology, women’s lived experiences, and breastfeeding promotion. Having experienced practically every single problem nursing her three children, she was inspired to use her research expertise to help women nurse their babies in an empowering manner and make informed decisions regarding infant feeding. She hopes to create a new model of breastfeeding education that focuses on the mother-infant dyad as opposed to outside experts.
While breastfeeding initiation rates in the United States have risen to 79%, reaching long-term breastfeeding goals are still problematic for many women with the financial and educational resources to nurse their infants (CDC 2014). With the majority of research linking low breastfeeding rates to individual mothers, we took a novel approach that focused on breastfeeding education and tracked how this sample of women learned to breastfeed before their infant was born until the late postpartum period. We followed 120 first time mothers from online parenting groups from late pregnancy to the early and late postpartum periods, and analyzed their qualitative data from 4 open-ended questions that focused on learning across time. Our results revealed gaps in current breastfeeding education where factors vital to breastfeeding success were often ignored. Such factors included nipple pain, the active role of the infant, and maternal experiential knowledge. Additional findings showed that breastfeeding knowledge changed across time whereby pregnant women were more focused on factual information and technical aspects while mothers relied more on their own judgments and infant cues during the early and late postpartum periods. This change in learning increased maternal confidence in breastfeeding and decreased reliance on medical professionals for breastfeeding expertise. This research offers an alternative way to view breastfeeding education through the lens of first time mothers as the identification of previously unexamined variables can help create more effective educational campaigns while fostering maternal empowerment.