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Social Support and Achieving Breastfeeding Goals

Both received support and perceived support for breastfeeding predict breastfeeding success (Mitra et al., 2004).

Several typologies exist for classifying social support. House (1981) classifies support into four categories: emotional, informational, instrumental, and appraisal support. Cutrona and Suhr (1992) identify the following five dimensions of support, several of which overlap with the support categories described by House (1981): informational, emotional, esteem, tangible, and network. The table below describes these categories of support and examples of seeking and providing each category for breastfeeding mothers.

Table 1. Types of Social Support and Examples for Breastfeeding

*Peer support groups for breastfeeding offer multiple types of support.

National guidelines for supporting breastfeeding mothers further provide strategies that can be used by individuals supporting breastfeeding mothers to operationalize the dimensions of social support. Early forms of breastfeeding support, for example, include assistance with latching and positioning (i.e. instrumental or tangible support), addressing breastfeeding concerns, and providing counseling on transitioning back to work (i.e. emotional support and informational support) (CDC, 2013). These strategies are supported by systematic reviews examining the social support needs of breastfeeding mothers and breastfeeding outcomes (Britton et al, 2012).

In addition, several studies provide evidence for the effectiveness of peers in delivering breastfeeding support for African American mothers (Dennis et al. 2002; Renfrew et al., 2012). Peers can be an invaluable source for providing support within each category of support. For example, Dennis et al. (2002) define peer support as support that incorporates informational, appraisal, and emotional assistance and is delivered by volunteers outside of the recipient’s immediate social network or family. African American mothers may experience less breastfeeding counseling and support from healthcare providers, which further underscores the importance of having peers to encourage breastfeeding (Johnson et al., 2015).

Support is a multidimensional construct. Breastfeeding support needs are different for each mother and throughout your breastfeeding journey, the type(s) of support needed may evolve. Understanding your support needs and where to find help (e.g. a supportive network of family and peers, lactation support professionals) will provide a strong foundation for achieving your breastfeeding goals.


1. Britton, C., McCormick, F., Renfrew, M., Wade, A., & King, S. (2012). Support for breastfeeding mothers. Cochrane Database Systems Review, (1). Cd001141.

2. CDC. (2013). Strategies to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases: The CDC guide to strategies to support breastfeeding mothers and babies.

3. Cutrona, C. & Suhr, J.(1992). Controllability of stressful events and satisfaction with spouse support behaviors. Communication Research, 19, 154-174.

4. Dennis, C., Hodnett, E., Gallop, R., & Chalmers, B. (2002). The effect of peer support on breast-feeding duration among primiparous women: A randomized controlled trial. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 166(1), 21-28. Retrieved from http://proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mnh&AN=11800243&site=eds-live

5. House, J. S. (1981). Work Stress and Social Support. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.

6. Johnson, A., Kirk, R., Rosenblum, K. L., & Muzik, M. (2015). Enhancing breastfeeding ratesamong African American women: A systematic review of current psychosocial interventions. Breastfeeding Medicine, 10(1), 45-62. doi:10.1089/bfm.2014.0023

7. Mitra, A., Khoury, A., Hinton, A., & Carothers, C. (2004). Predictors of breastfeeding intention in low-income women. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 8(2), 65-70.

8. Renfrew, M., McCormick, F., Wade, A., Quinn, B., & Dowswell, T. (2012). Support for healthy breastfeeding mothers with healthy term babies. Cochrane Database Systems.

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