Research Agenda

Fiona and GeorgieThe imperative for me and, I believe, the most important element of my doctoral research is that it will have a positive impact when implemented in real world situations. Given this, it is not surprising that my research is a result of my own experience. I had my beautiful baby girl in April 2016 and unfortunately, due to a variety of obstacles and little to no professional support, my baby and I were not able to establish a direct breastfeeding relationship. I was devastated that we would never have the “gold standard” of baby nutrition, bonding, and comfort, but was still determined to give her breast milk any way I could. I knew vaguely how to express milk with a breast pump, but little clue how to do it as the sole means of extracting milk, despite having taken a breastfeeding class, spoken at length about breastfeeding with our doula, and done a great deal of online research on the topic. After doing more online research, I discovered the term “exclusive pumping” (EP, EPing, EPer) at about two weeks postpartum. Through social media, specifically Facebook groups, I learned how to sustainably EP, received answers to specific questions, and felt understanding and support for my situation. My overall research goal is to study the information behavior—that is, the information needs, seeking, and use—of EPers.

Breast milk is seen by mothers, health care providers, and public health organizations as optimal nutrition for infants. However, a variety of external barriers to breastfeeding exist, such as problems establishing a latch, getting milk to flow, or poor infant weight gain, as well as internal barriers, such as a perception that breast milk alone is not sufficient and a desire for caregivers to be involved in infant feeding. EPing can provide the solution to many of these barriers while still providing the benefits of feeding breast milk. Given the complete lack of data on EPing in any academic field, my research will collect both qualitative and quantitative data from EPers, especially focusing on their information needs, how they seek that information, where they ultimately find it, how good that information is, and how they use it. Data is being collected through an initial online survey; follow-up surveys will be sent out every two months to capture the changing nature of women’s EPing journeys through time.

My hypothesis is that EPing could increase the incidence and duration of breastfeeding provided that mothers have the right information at the right time. By demonstrating the importance of information, my long-term goal is to impact what is included in breastfeeding information provided both prenatally and postpartum.