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Matern Child Nutr. 2016 Jan;12(1):111-24. doi: 10.1111/mcn.12179. Epub 2015 Jun 9.

'This little piranha': a qualitative analysis of the language used by health professionals and mothers to describe infant behaviour during breastfeeding.

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School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Western Sydney, Penrith, New South Wales, Australia.
School of Nursing and Midwifery, Maternity and Family, Research Centre for Clinical and Community Practice Innovation, Griffith Health, Griffith University, Meadowbrook, Queensland, Australia.


Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life offers the recommended best start in the life for a newborn baby. Yet, in Australia only a small number of babies receive breast milk exclusively for the first 6 months. Reasons for the introduction of formula milk are multi-factorial including access to appropriate support and the woman's experience of breastfeeding. The language and practices of health professionals can impact upon how a woman feels about breastfeeding and her breastfeeding body. One aspect of breastfeeding support that has had scarce attention in the literature is the language used by health professionals to describe the behaviour of the breastfeeding infant during the early establishment phase of breastfeeding. This paper reveals some of the ways in which midwives, lactation consultants and breastfeeding women describe the newborn baby during the first week after birth. The study was conducted at two maternity units in New South Wales. Interactions between midwives and breastfeeding women were observed and audio recorded on the post-natal ward and in women's homes, in the first week after birth. The transcribed data were analysed using discourse analysis searching for recurring words, themes and metaphors used in descriptions of the breastfeeding baby. Repeated negative references to infant personality and unfavourable interpretations of infant behaviour influenced how women perceived their infant. The findings revealed that positive language and interpretations of infant breastfeeding behaviour emerged from more relationship-based communication.


breastfeeding; discourse analysis; infant behaviour; infant personality; language; relationship focus

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