Breastfeeding Decision-Making Among Mothers with Opioid Use Disorder: A Qualitative Study

Katherine R. Standish, Tierney M. Morrison, Amita Wanar, Lisa Crowell, Cara B. Safon, Eve Colson, Mari Lynn Drainoni, Bryanne N. Colvin, Hayley Friedman, Davida M. Schiff, Sara Stulac, Eileen Costello, Margaret Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Factors that contribute to low initiation and continuation of breastfeeding among mothers with opioid use disorder (OUD) are poorly understood. Objective: To understand barriers and facilitators to breastfeeding initiation and continuation beyond the birth hospitalization for mothers with OUD. Materials and Methods: We conducted 23 in-depth, semistructured interviews with mothers with OUD who cared for their infants at home 1-7 months after birth. Our interview guide was informed by the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) framework, which has been used to understand decision-making regarding breastfeeding. An iterative approach was used to develop codes and themes. Results: Among 23 participants, 16 initiated breastfeeding, 10 continued after hospital discharge, and 4 continued beyond 8 weeks. We identified factors influencing breastfeeding decisions in the four TPB domains. Regarding attitudes, feeding intentions were based on beliefs of the healthiness of breastfeeding particularly pertaining to infant withdrawal or exposure to mothers' medications. Regarding social norms, breastfeeding was widely recommended, but mothers had varying levels of trust in medical professional advice. Regarding perceived control, infant withdrawal and maternal pain caused breastfeeding to be difficult, with decisions to continue modulated by level of outside support. Regarding self-efficacy, mothers weighed their own recovery and well-being against the constant demands of breastfeeding, impacting decisions to continue. Conclusion: Mothers with OUD face unique barriers to breastfeeding related to their infants' withdrawal as well as their own health, recovery, and social context. Overcoming these barriers may serve as future intervention targets for breastfeeding promotion among this high-risk population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-355
Number of pages9
JournalBreastfeeding Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2023


  • Theory of Planned Behavior
  • breastfeeding
  • opioid use disorder
  • opioid-exposed newborns


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