Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Sowan, Nancy


ABSTRACT Despite efforts to establish national objectives, legislation, policy statements, advertisement campaigns and other initiatives to promote and support breastfeeding, segments of the population who are lower-income, less educated, and younger than twenty five are least likely to initiate and sustain breastfeeding. The purpose of this study was to understand the meaning of the lived breastfeeding experiences. The qualitative method of phenomenology was chosen to guide in-depth interviews with five women who were 18 or 19 years old and enrolled in the Nutrition Education and Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) while breastfeeding. Analysis revealed the essential structure of the breastfeeding experience to include three elements: deciding to breastfeed, the breastfeeding experience, and outcomes of the experience. Women formulated their perceptions of breastfeeding through past experiences, identified reasons to choose this feeding method and were supported to breastfeed. The experiences of learning how to breastfeed, coping with challenges and the support they received to continue breastfeeding impacted their experience. All of the women in this study used breast pumps for different reasons and had varying success. Women in this study had a range of comfort levels breastfeeding in front of other people. Emotionally, women experienced stress, frustration, insecurity, self sacrifice, but also felt empowered to learned how to breastfeed. Being the soul source of their infant’s nutritional needs made them feel special and contributed to the close bond they developed with their child. Paradoxical feelings regarding the joys and difficulties of breastfeeding are also experienced by adult women. However, adolescents may be more susceptible to the intensity of the breastfeeding relationship because of other developmental transitions they are undergoing, making adaptation into motherhood more difficult. Overall, women felt that hardships experienced were well worth the benefits. Implications for nursing and public health practice include promoting awareness of breastfeeding through legislation to support women’s right to breastfeed, celebrating breastfeeding publicly, and fostering breastfeeding friendly workplaces. Women should receive anticipatory guidance about what to expect with breastfeeding, how to manage physical and emotional challenges, be educated on ways to minimize embarrassment, and be informed of the availability and use of breast pumps. Young women who have had breastfeeding experiences and desire being role models for other young women should be incorporated into teen pregnancy programs to talk with pregnant adolescents about the breastfeeding experience.