Hands-on Approach During Breastfeeding Support in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

July 21, 2011

Assisting mothers to breastfeed is not easy when babies experience difficulties. In a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), nurses often help mothers by using hands-on-breast without their permission.

Abstract
Background
Assisting mothers to breastfeed is not easy when babies experience difficulties. In a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), nurses often help mothers by using hands-on-breast without their permission. Little is known about how mothers feel about this unusual body touching. To gain more knowledge from mothers who lived through this experience, this hands-on practice was studied in a NICU in Sweden.

Methods
Between January and June 2001, in-depth interviews were conducted with ten mothers of preterm or sick term infants and all of them experienced the hands-on approach. In this research, Radnitzky's seven principles of hermeneutic interpretation were applied in order to interpret the meaning of mothers' responses. This article presents results related to the period of initiation of breastfeeding. This qualitative study was based on a combination of the models of Gustafsson, Orem, and Aarts' Marte Meo.

Results
Five main themes were identified: Insult to integrity, Manipulating the baby, Understanding and adjustment, Breasts as objects, Alternatives to this practice. Hands-on help in the breastfeeding situation was experienced as unpleasant and the women experienced their breasts as objectified. The mothers accepted the hands-on help given by nursing staff, even though they considered it unpleasant. Most mothers expressed a need for assistance when starting breastfeeding, but could not suggest any alternative to hands-on help such as demonstrating with an artificial breast and a doll.

Conclusion
The study provides information about how mothers experience unexpected hands-on help with breastfeeding in a NICU, which has not been described previously. Since most mothers in this study regarded this behavior as unpleasant and not helpful mostly because it was unexpected and unexplained, it would be important to either explain beforehand to mothers what type of physical approach could be attempted on their body or better, to avoid this type of approach completely.

International Breastfeeding Journal 2006, 1:20 doi:10.1186/1746-4358-1-20

The complete research article is available in PDF format