Background: Social networks and subjective norms (individuals' perceptions of what other people think) can be influential in decision-making. Although there are data about the importance of support in initiation and duration of breastfeeding, no studies have explored the influence of women's social networks and the norms within those networks on breastfeeding.
Research Aim: To investigate, through qualitative methods, the influence of mothers' social networks and subjective norms, both within and outside of her network, with regard to breastfeeding practices.
Materials and Methods: Twenty-eight mothers participated in focus groups or individual interviews. Probing questions concerning breastfeeding intent, initiation, continuation, and support with regard to social networks and subjective norms were asked. Themes were developed in an iterative manner from coded data. Matrix coding queries assessed patterns in the data and compared quotes based on the respondents' race and social network type.
Results: General themes that emerged were the importance of breastfeeding experience within one's social network, the influence of the infant's father, handling disagreement within one's network, and the effects of social norms that exist outside of one's network. Mothers described support for breastfeeding from network members as especially important when breastfeeding was not the norm within the network. There were no differences in themes by race or social network type.
Conclusion: Breastfeeding behavior is influenced by a mother's social network, regardless of her race or social network type. Even when breastfeeding is not normative within one's social network, by relying on one network member to support them, mothers may be able to resist the opposing norms of their social network. Since breastfeeding is known to be beneficial to infants and mothers, education or interventions to improve breastfeeding rates may be more effective if they include individual network members who can provide strong support to new mothers.