Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Date of Award

January 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Janet R. Hankin


Breastfeeding offers numerous health benefits to the mother, infant, and society. In the United States breastfeeding initiation rates have increased, but continue to fall short of objectives set forth by the CDC in the Healthy People 2020 initiative, regarding duration and exclusivity. African Americans have lower rates of breastfeeding initiation, duration, and exclusivity than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States (USDHHS, 2012).

The purpose of this study was to examine the breastfeeding experiences of a diverse group of African American women, in order to better understand what social networks encouraged or discouraged breastfeeding initiation, continuation, and exclusivity. Close attention was given to the type of support provided by support systems to positively influence breastfeeding in this group of women. Additionally, this study sought to uncover the meaning of adequate breastfeeding support as perceived by the women in the study.

This study employed a qualitative research design using semi-structured in-depth interviewing. The sample included 15 African American women recruited from 2 sites serving breastfeeding women in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The purpose of the interviews was to ascertain the women's perspectives on breastfeeding experiences and support systems.

Results of this study indicate that participants engaged in a number of supportive social relationships which positively affected their breastfeeding experiences. Women in the study perceived romantic partners, breastfeeding peer counselors, and hospital-based lactation consultants to me most supportive during breastfeeding. Additionally, women received support from female relatives and friends, and online breastfeeding support groups. Participants found emotional, informational, and instrumental support to be most essential to breastfeeding success.