Determinants of health care worker breastfeeding experience and practices and their association with provision of care for breastfeeding mothers: a mixed-methods study from Northern Thailand

Mary Ellen Gilder, Chanapat Pateekhum, Nan San Wai, Prapatsorn Misa, Phimthip Sanguanwai, Jarntrah Sappayabanphot, Nan Eh Tho, Wichuda Wiwattanacharoen, Nopakoon Nantsupawat, Ahmar Hashmi, Chaisiri Angkurawaranon, Rose McGready

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Improving breastfeeding rates is one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent infant deaths, but most of the world falls far below WHO recommended breastfeeding practices. Confident, informed healthcare workers are an important resource to promote breastfeeding, but healthcare workers are at risk of early breastfeeding cessation themselves. Culture, ethnicity and socio-economic status impact breastfeeding rates with some of the highest and lowest rates in Southeast Asia reported from Thailand. This study explores the relationship between workplace determinants of breastfeeding, personal breastfeeding outcomes for healthcare workers, and the breastfeeding care healthcare workers provide their patients. Methods: This study used a sequential exploratory design guided by a conceptual framework based on social ecological/ecological psychology models. Participants came from four clinical sites in Northern Thailand, from ethnically Burman or Karen communities with high breastfeeding rates, and Thai communities with low breastfeeding rates. In-depth interviews (July 2020-November 2020) were followed by a quantitative survey (November 2020-July 2021) derived from validated questionnaires (Australian Breastfeeding Knowledge and Attitudes Questionnaire and the Workplace Breastfeeding Support Scale) with minor local adaptations. Results: Interviews highlighted the beneficial effects of supportive workplace policies, the importance of physical spaces to facilitate proximity between mothers and infants, and the problem of low milk production. Meeting the WHO recommended practices of exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months or total breastfeeding to 2 years or more was more common in sites with higher levels of breastfeeding support (aOR 7.3, 95%CI 1.8, 29.1 for exclusive breastfeeding). Exclusive breastfeeding was also higher when staff set breastfeeding goals (aOR 4.4, 95%CI 1.7, 11.5). Staff who were able to see their infants during the work day were less likely to terminate breastfeeding because of work (aOR 0.3, 95%CI 0.1, 0.8). Staff who met both WHO recommendations themselves were more likely to report high levels of confidence caring for breastfeeding patients (aOR 2.6, 95%CI 1.1, 6.4). Conclusions: Workplace protections including supportive maternity leave policies and child-friendly spaces can improve breastfeeding outcomes for healthcare workers. These improved outcomes are then passed on to patients who benefit from healthcare workers who are more confident and attentive to breastfeeding problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8
JournalInternational Breastfeeding Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024


  • Breastfeeding
  • Maternity protection
  • Midwives
  • Nurses
  • Working mothers
  • Workplace

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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