Shelton Explores Breastfeeding Among Puerto Rican Mothers

By Purnell T. Cropper | July 7, 2010

Amanda J. Shelton, who earned a Master of Public Health degree in May, conducted her thesis on “An Exploration of the Breastfeeding Experience of Puerto Rican Women in the United States.” Shelton’s study explored the breastfeeding experiences, including struggles and challenges to breastfeed, of Puerto Rican mothers living in the U.S in order to provide recommendations to health care providers serving this community.

“Breast milk is recognized as the optimal nutrition for infants, however, in the United States only 73 percent of mothers initiate breastfeeding and only 39 percent of infants are breastfed at six months,” Shelton wrote in her abstract. “Breastfeeding, due to its importance for a healthy infancy that carries benefits into adulthood, is important for the Hispanic community in the U.S. who experience a disproportionate amount of poverty and poor health. Hispanic mothers have the highest breastfeeding initiation rates in the U.S., however, breastfeeding initiation among Puerto Rican mothers is significantly lower. Previous research on breastfeeding within the Hispanic community often fails to identify subgroups, causing breastfeeding determinants and experiences of Puerto Rican mothers to be understudied.”

For the study, qualitative interviews were conducted with seven Puerto Rican mothers on their breastfeeding experience. Participants were recruited through the Maternity Care Coalition’s (MCC) North Central MOMobile site in Philadelphia, Pa.

Shelton’s results showed that “five of the participants breastfed their youngest child, and the average length of breastfeeding duration was three months. Regardless of infant feeding decision, all of the mothers described benefits of breastfeeding, with infant-center benefits being the primary motivator to breastfeed. Challenges and barriers to breastfeeding identified by the seven mothers were: pain associated with milk production, breastfeeding and/or pumping; feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable; difficulty latching; not producing enough milk; maternal exhaustion; and prolonged recuperation time following unexpected cesarean sections.

“Despite well-known and culturally valued benefits of breastfeeding,” Shelton concluded, “breastfeeding exclusivity and duration appear suboptimal. Further research on the knowledge of the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding and breastfeeding duration among this population may confirm these findings and necessitate the need for breastfeeding education to focus on the practices and tools necessary to empower Puerto Rican women to exclusively breastfeed for increased duration.”