A qualitative investigation of breast cancer survivors’ experiences with breastfeeding
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A qualitative investigation of breast cancer survivors’ experiences with breastfeeding


This is an exploratory, qualitative investigation of breast cancer survivors’ experiences with breastfeeding. Previous studies have focused on the physiology of lactation after surgery and treatment, but have not explored factors influencing breastfeeding decisions and behavior. We used purposeful sampling to identify 11 breast cancer survivors who had a child after their diagnosis and treatment. Participants were recruited from among those in the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) study and a Young Survival Coalition (YSC) affiliate. We conducted semi-structured, open-ended telephone interviews lasting 45–75 min. We used social cognitive theory (SCT) to structure questions regarding influences on breastfeeding behavior. We transcribed interviews and used cross-case, inductive analysis to identify themes. Ten of 11 participants initiated breastfeeding. The following main themes emerged: 1) Cautiously hopeful, 2) Exhausting to rely on one breast, 3) Motivated despite challenges, 4) Support and lack of support, and 5) Encouraging to others. Study participants were highly motivated to breastfeed but faced considerable challenges. Participants described problems that are not unique to women with breast cancer, but experienced these to a much greater degree because they relied mostly or entirely on one lactating breast. This study revealed a need for improved access to information and support and greater sensitivity to the obstacles faced by breast cancer survivors. Results of this qualitative analysis indicate that interventions to support the efforts of breast cancer survivors who are interested in breastfeeding are warranted. Additional research would aid in the development of such interventions.

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