Use of the theory of planned behavior framework to understand breastfeeding decision-making among mothers of preterm infants

Margaret G. Parker, Sunah S. Hwang, Emma S. Forbes, Bryanne N. Colvin, Kyria R. Brown, Eve R. Colson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Mothers of preterm infants face significant challenges to breastfeeding. The theory of planned behavior (TPB) is a well-known framework comprising three domains (attitudes, perceived control, and social norms), which has been used to conceptualize the array of factors that influence health-related behaviors and develop interventions to promote behaviors. Aim: We used the TPB framework to determine the array of factors that contribute to breastfeeding among mothers of preterm infants. Materials and Methods: Usingqualitative researchmethods,we conducted in-depth, semistructured interviewswith mothers regarding their experiences feeding their preterm infants according to TPB domains.We developed themes based on an iterative process of review of transcripts and conducted interviews until thematic saturation was reached. Results: We interviewed 23 mothers in 3 states 2 to 6 months after hospital discharge; 22 mothers initiated milk production and 6 were breastfeeding at the time of the interview. Factors that were positive and negative toward breastfeeding were present for all three TPB domains. Regarding attitudes, mothers felt that breastfeeding was a way to bond, that breast milk was healthy and protective, and that breast milk alone was insufficient for a growing preterm infant. Regarding perceived control, mothers felt empowered to breastfeed due to encouragement from hospital staff, friends, and family, and had difficulty overcoming their infant's immature oral feeding skills, competing responsibilities, and perceived infant preference for bottle feeding. Regarding social norms, mothers reported support for and against breastfeeding among hospital and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC) providers, family, friends, and the media. Conclusion: Interventional studies geared toward breastfeeding promotion among mothers of preterm infants may focus on addressing barriers to direct breastfeeding during the neonatal intensive care unit and early postdischarge time periods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)608-615
Number of pages8
JournalBreastfeeding Medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Breastfeeding
  • Prematurity
  • Theory of planned behavior


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