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examine the various methodological approaches described for different study designs.

  • Do you see more qualitative or quantitative approaches used?
  • Why do you think some psychologists are more comfortable with conducting studies using quantitative data instead of qualitative data?
  • What would be an advantage to using qualitative data along with quantitative data?
  • ?find two peer-reviewed articles (one that has used a quantitative approach and one that has used a qualitative approach.) Summarize these two articles.
  • What methods of data collection were used in these articles?
  • What makes these methods quantitative or qualitative in nature

Ahmad?et?al. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth (2022) 22:85


Working mothers? breastfeeding experience:
a?phenomenology qualitative approach
Rita Surianee Ahmad1,2, Zaharah Sulaiman1* , Nik Hazlina Nik Hussain1 and Norhayati Mohd Noor3

Background: Breastfeeding practice is influenced by the mother?s attitude toward and knowledge of breastfeeding.
Working mothers face many challenges and need support to maintain breastfeeding. This study aimed to explore
working mothers? breastfeeding experiences and challenges that can influenced their practices.

Methods: The qualitative phenomenological approach involving working mothers in Kota Bharu who fulfilled the
inclusion criteria and consented to participate in the study were recruited using purposive sampling. Sixteen par-
ticipants aged 24 to 46 years were interviewed using semi-structured in-depth interviews in the study. All interviews
were recorded in digital audio, transcribed verbatim and analyzed using thematic analysis.

Findings: Three main themes emerged from the data analysis: perception of breastfeeding, challenges in breast-
feeding, and support for breastfeeding. Two subthemes for perceptions were perception towards breastfeeding and
towards infant formula. Challenges had two subthemes too which were related to perceived insufficient milk and
breastfeeding difficulty. Where else, two subthemes for support were internal support (spouse and family) and exter-
nal support (friends, employer, and healthcare staff ).

Conclusions: Maintaining breastfeeding after return to work is challenging for working mothers and majority of
them need support to continue breastfeeding practice. Support from their spouses and families? influences working
mothers? decision to breastfeed. Employers play a role in providing a support system and facilities in the workplace for
mothers to express and store breast milk. Both internal and external support are essential for mothers to overcome
challenges in order to achieve success in breastfeeding.

Keywords: Breastfeeding, Working mothers, Perceptions, Challenges, Support

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According to the latest available national data, the rate of
exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months in Malay-
sia was 47.1%, with Malay ethnic contributing the high-
est percentage. Similarly, married status and housewives
were more commonly able to breastfeed exclusively.
In contrast, women with higher education and higher
household incomes categories less commonly able to

breastfeed exclusively [1]. This research took place
among the Malays who are the largest ethnic population.
In Malaysia, full time working mothers are entitled for a
three-month maternity leave. However, for contract or
part-time workers their maternity leaves are subjected to
the employers? jurisdiction.

Breastfeeding is beneficial to babies? health. It con-
tributes to newborns? physical and mental growth
and is a natural contraceptive that helps mothers in
birth spacing [2]. Early initiation of breastfeeding that
is, within the first hour after birth [3, 4] increased
breastfeeding success and was found to help in speed-
ing up uterine involution, which reduced the risk of

Open Access

*Correspondence: [email?protected]
1 Women?s Health Development Unit, School of Medical Sciences, Health
Campus, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 16150 Kubang Kerian, Kelantan,
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article

Page 2 of 8Ahmad?et?al. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth (2022) 22:85

postpartum bleeding [5]. Colostrum produced soon
after birth creates the first antibodies for the baby [6].

Research has shown that working mothers? positive
attitudes toward breastfeeding were associated with a
longer breastfeeding period where the mothers tended
to breastfeed exclusively [6?9] and had a higher chance
of success in breastfeeding. Positive attitudes toward
breastfeeding were favorable to the infant?s health [2,
7] and storing expressed milk to be given to the babies
when the mothers started working reduced family
expenses [7].

Mothers who chose not to continue exclusive breast-
feeding before the infant reached 6 months, were
deemed to have negative attitudes toward breastfeed-
ing. Their reasons included feeling too shy to breast-
feed, especially in public [8], thinking their milk was
insufficient, finding breastfeeding difficult and incon-
venient, and failing to breastfeed after trying [9].
Some mothers were worried about their weight gain
and needed to adopt a certain diet plan to lose weight.
Other mothers cited being busy and occupied with
household chores as reasons for not breastfeeding [9].
Therefore, in many cases, mother?s attitudes toward
breastfeeding were highly dependent on their knowl-
edge of and experience in breastfeeding. Previous
studies have shown that the infants of working moth-
ers with a good knowledge of exclusive breastfeeding
received only breast milk without any supplements in
the first 6 months [7, 10].

Negative attitudes toward breastfeeding existed
because the mothers faced many challenges which was
obviously noticed when they had to returned to work,
such as a lack of support in their workplace; thus, less
than 50% were able to exclusively breastfeed once they
returned to work [9, 11, 12]. The literature has shown
that the practice of exclusive breastfeeding is influ-
enced by the mother?s attitude toward and knowledge
of breastfeeding, as well as other challenges associated
with the mother. This qualitative study was conducted
to explore breastfeeding issues related to challengers

and support among working mothers in Kota Bharu,

Research design
The qualitative phenomenological approach was used
to explore working mothers? breastfeeding experiences.
Semi-structured in-depth interviews were used because
they were appropriate for discussing breastfeeding expe-
riences, which encompassed issues related to employ-
ment that were deemed challenging by the working
mothers. Working mother included in this study were
self-employed as well as salaried job.

Research location and?participants
The research participants were recruited from Raja Perem-
puan Zainab II Hospital Universiti Sains Malaysia Hospital
and government and private offices in the district of Kota
Bharu. The inclusion criteria were perinatal working moth-
ers (employed), including those who had or will have the first
experience of breastfeeding who either currently pregnant,
had a child, or had an infant less than 6 months? old (Table?1).
Research participants were purposely selected.

Data derived from the interviews were used to gener-
ate codes, which later contributed to the generation of
themes and subthemes. According to Creswell [13], five
to 25 research participants should be purposely recruited
in a study until data saturation is achieved. However,
Cheng et?al. [14] suggested adding three or four research
participants to ensure data saturation with maximum
variation. We reached saturation after 12 participants
were interviewed but only stopped recruitment at 16
participants. Health care providers helped to select and
introduce the participants based on study inclusion cri-
teria before the researcher approached the participants.

Data collection and?analysis
Interview guidelines were prepared based on the
information obtained from the literature review. The
Researcher invited two working mother to participate

Table 1 Participants? recruitment locations

Sampling location No of participant
(n?= 16)

Population Targeted population

Hospital 13 Obstetrics and Gynaecology Clinics and
Wards at:
– Hospital Raja Perempuan Zainab II and
– Hospital Universiti Sains Malaysia

Working mothers who come for antenatal and
postnatal check up

Community 3 Working women in Kota Bharu
– Private offices in Kota Bharu
– Government offices in Kota Bharu

The working mothers have baby less than 6 months

Page 3 of 8Ahmad?et?al. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth (2022) 22:85

in pilot interviews to assess the feasibility, clarity, and
appropriateness of the interview questions (Additional
file?1), and improvements were made accordingly. Before
the face-to-face interviews were initiated, the research
participants were informed about the purpose and
requirement of participating in the study, and written
consent was obtained as required by the ethics commit-
tee. The interviews only took place after the research par-
ticipants had signed the consent form.

All interviews were conducted by the first author in
English or Malay, as requested by the participants. Inter-
views were held in a room that provided privacy and
minimized interference, such as a clinic room or work-
place, so as not to affect the session. The interviews were
recorded in digital audio using an MP3 recorder (Sony

The interviews with 16 working mothers began with
open-ended general questions, such as ?Can you tell me
about your breastfeeding experience or experience using
formula milk?? and ?Can you tell me why you opt for this
breastfeeding method?? These were followed by specific
questions to explore the issue in depth, such as ?Would
you mind sharing with me why you prefer this method??
This method was suitable for exploring issues related
to breastfeeding knowledge, attitudes, and practices in

Apart from the information conveyed verbally, nonver-
bal expressions and behaviors were also observed during
the interviews. One interview session was conducted for

each study participant and lasted for 40 to 60 min. All
interview data were transcribed and coded by the first
author..Three participants were randomly selected to ver-
ify the compatibility of the information in the transcripts
with their interpretation during the interviews. Finally,
group discussion with the research team was done and
the verbatim transcripts were thematically analysed using
computer-aided qualitative data analysis software (CAQ-
DAS), namely, ATLAS.ti software version 11.

Ethical approval
This study was approved by the Human Research Eth-
ics Committee of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM/
JEPeM/15040115) and the Medical Review and Ethics
Committee of the Ministry of Health Malaysia (NMRR-
15-2038-25,781 [IIR]).

Participants? demographic characteristics
Sixteen working mothers aged 24 to 46 years voluntar-
ily participated in this study. All research participants
were Malay Muslims who attained at least a secondary
level of education (Table? 2). Two antenatal and 14 post-
natal mothers those with experience and without breast-
feeding experience were recruited because these groups
had breastfeeding experience or had decided or at least
had the desire and intention to breastfeed their babies.
Understanding the experiences of working mothers and
their choices to breastfeed can explore factors influencing

Table 2 Demographic characteristics of research participants

ID Age range (years) Occupation Education level Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding period

Participant 1 31?40 Clinical instructor Tertiary Yes 7 months of breastfeeding the second child

Participant 2 21?30 Kindergarten assistant Secondary level Yes Practise breastfeeding within 3 days after labour

Participant 3 31?40 Teacher Tertiary Yes 3 years of breastfeeding the third and fourth children

Participant 4 31?40 Teacher Tertiary Yes Practise breastfeeding within 2 days after labour

Participant 5 31?40 Clerk Secondary school No Practise breastfeeding within 2 days after labour

Participant 6 21?30 Saleswoman Secondary school No Practise breastfeeding within 3 days after labour

Participant 7 41?50 Teacher Tertiary No 3 years of breastfeeding the first and second children

Participant 8 41?50 Dealer Secondary school Yes 2 years of breastfeeding the second and third

Participant 9 31?40 Teacher Tertiary Yes Mixed, alternating expressed milk and formula
(inverted nipple)

Participant 10 31?40 Clerk Secondary school Yes 2 months of breastfeeding the first child

Participant 11 21?30 Clerk Secondary school Yes 2 months of breastfeeding the first child

Participant 12 21?30 Saleswoman Secondary school No 9 days of breastfeeding (the baby has passed away)

Participant 13 31?40 Lecturer Tertiary Yes 1 year of breastfeeding the second to the fourth child

Participant 14 31?40 Nurse Tertiary No 1 year of of breastfeeding the first child

Participant 15 41?50 Nurse Tertiary Yes 1 years of breastfeeding the third and fourth children

Participant 16 41?50 Nurse Tertiary Yes 8 months of breastfeeding the first to the third child

Page 4 of 8Ahmad?et?al. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth (2022) 22:85

breastfeeding practices among working mother. Most
of them were exposed to routine education related to
breastfeeding during their visits to antenatal clinics or
upon admission to the ward.

Working mothers? experiences
From the data, three themes emerged that helped explain
the working mothers? experiences in breastfeeding: per-
ceptions of breastfeeding, challenges in breastfeeding,
and support that can influence the practice of breastfeed-
ing. Table?3 presents a summary of the themes that arose
from the interview sessions.

Theme 1: perceptions
The first theme is about the mothers? perceptions of
breastfeeding and formula milk. Some mothers also
expressed their perceptions of their work and spouse
that affected breastfeeding. Thus, perceptions were cat-
egorized into the following subthemes: perceptions of
breastfeeding, perceptions of formula milk, and influence
of advertisements.

Subtheme: perceptions towards breastfeeding Some
mothers believed that breast milk was better than for-
mula milk and that they should continue breastfeeding to
ensure an adequate and continuous milk supply:

The thing that I understand is that breast milk is
better than powdered [ formula] milk. The nutrients
[in breast milk] are higher than those in powdered
milk. We don?t know where powdered milk comes
from, but for breast milk, we know it comes natu-
rally from our bodies. (Participant 2)

Subtheme: perceptions towards formula milk Some
mothers deemed formula milk as an alternative to breast

milk even though they realized the benefits of breastfeed-
ing. This happened when they were not able to provide
breast milk or observe the positive changes when their
infants were given breast milk. For instance, Participant
3 said, ?What I?ve seen is, my child is thinner than my
cousin?s kids; they drink formula milk. The kids would
only be chubby when they drink formula milk.? Partici-
pant 6 explained, ?Because I think we won?t always have
milk, we would want to buy other milk to try and see
whether it is suitable or not.?

Subtheme: influence of advertisements In general,
advertising seeks to influence consumers to try certain
products. Some mothers believed that advertisements
could influence them to try formula milk because of its
content: ?I think some mothers are influenced by the
advertisements. In the ads, certain formula milk is por-
trayed as having specific nutrients, but in fact, breast
milk is the best. Maybe some are convinced by the ads?
(Participant 1).

Theme 2: challenges in?breastfeeding
Challenges in breastfeeding were the main issue that
affected breastfeeding. The data revealed various chal-
lenges experienced by working mothers when breast-
feeding, such as having insufficient milk, pain during
breastfeeding, and inverted nipples.

Subtheme: perceived insufficient milk for the baby The
main challenge in breastfeeding for working mothers
was feeling that their milk was inadequate once they had
returned to work. Their main reason for using formula
milk was having insufficient breast milk: ?I just managed
to breastfeed our third one for forty days. When it came
to day 60, I had to start working. By day 65, I no longer
produced milk? (Participant 10).

Only one mother stated that her breasts did not produce
milk anymore as a result of being away from her baby: ?I
only managed to see my baby once a week. And my baby
didn?t want to breastfeed, so my breasts were drained. I
stayed in a college hostel; eventually I no longer produced
milk? (Participant 7).

Subtheme: breastfeeding difficulties The breastfeeding
difficult when mother complain she is having difficult to
breastfeed their baby because of pain and some breast

Subtheme: pain during breastfeeding The moth-
ers reported pain while breastfeeding due to engorged

Table 3 Themes and subthemes that arose during the

Subthemes Themes

? Perception towards breastfeeding
? Perception towards formula milk
? Influence of advertisements

Perception of Breastfeeding

? Perceived insufficient milk for the baby
? Breastfeeding difficulties
? Pain during breastfeeding
? Inverted nipples

Challenges in Breastfeeding

? Internal support
? Support from husband and family
? External support
? Support from friends, employer and
healthcare staffs

Support for Breastfeeding

Page 5 of 8Ahmad?et?al. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth (2022) 22:85

breasts: ?I have to pump it first. My breasts are engorged;
they?re aching? (Participant 9). Other mothers reported
pain due to perineal tears: ?I feel pain below here [birth-
ing channel] due to the tears [from the episiotomy]. It?s
hard to go to the toilet. I feel itchy even when I?m squat-
ting. It hurts to even breastfeed? (Participant 10).

Subtheme: inverted nipples One mother stated that she
had an issue with inverted nipples and tried her best to
breastfeed her child:

I have to pump, since I have inverted nipples. So it?s
difficult. Often, I pump my breasts. I have to do this
because if I try to give [breast] milk, it becomes awk-
ward. After that, when I pump, it [my nipple] will
come out for a moment, then it will go back in. It?s
just this one [pointing to the left breast] is a bit ok;
for this one, if I squeeze it, there?s milk. But the one
on this side [pointing to the right breast] is hard [the
nipple is badly inverted]. (Participant 5)

Theme 3: breastfeeding support
Support is a crucial aspect of breastfeeding. Some
mothers stated that they needed support to breastfeed

Subtheme: internal support from husband and fam-
ily The husband and family play an important role in
providing support because they are the closest to the
mother. For instance, Participant 4 stated, ?My husband
urges me to breastfeed. So I went out with him to see
a breast pump before purchasing it. So this means he
agrees when I want to breastfeed.? Participant 7 shared
the following:

My husband will heat the milk up because I bought
a complete breast pump set. My husband kind of
prefers to take care of his own child because he is
self-employed. He has a business. He said it doesn?t
matter. When I?m working, he takes care of the baby.
When I come back, I take care of the baby and he
goes to do his business. So if I keep my milk in the
fridge, my husband knows how to feed our child.
There is a warmer; I bought it along with the breast
pump in a complete set. (Participant 7)

The family plays a role in the care of the baby in the
absence of the mother: ?After that, when our baby
was almost six months old, my husband had to relo-
cate for his job. He went back to live with his mother,
so his mother takes care of the baby? (Participant:7).

Perception of partner

Working mothers also believed their spouses played
a role in breastfeeding: ?In my opinion, he [my hus-
band] wants me to breastfeed because I have heard
him admonish his sister for not breastfeeding her
child. I just heard my husband say that, so I didn?t
talk to him about this? (Participant 4).

Subtheme: external support from friends, employers, and
healthcare staff Support from friends, employers, and
healthcare staff indirectly plays a role in enabling working
mothers to breastfeed successfully.

Perceptions of one job

Employment issues, such as workplace facilities and
working hours, affect the practice of breastfeed-
ing. Having a job with flexible hours and an envi-
ronment that supports breastfeeding influences
the mothers? perceptions of financial needs from
salaries job. The following excerpt shows a moth-
er?s perception of her work: ?Yes, it?s hard for the
salaried people, but for me [the participant], it?s ok
since I work on my own; I can even do business and
bring my child along. It?s easy to give breast milk. If
I?m working with others, it?s hard to carry my child
along.? (Participant 8)

One mother stated that the facilities provided by her
employer made it easier for the staff to express and store
milk: ?We have to make sure we have the time to express
the milk, then keep it. There is a fridge in the office. I just
need to find the time to do it? (Participant 2).

Most mothers stated that the healthcare staff and their
colleagues also encouraged and guided them in breast-
feeding: ?We were placed in one area [dorm]. Coinci-
dentally, there was another working mother who had
just given birth. Her baby was also two months old, like
mine. So if we wanted to pump milk at night, we did it
together? (Participant 7).

The mothers said that the healthcare staff at the clinic
gave them breastfeeding advice, while the staff in the
ward helped them to breastfeed their babies: ?Because
before this, we were trained and we listened to a briefing
from the clinic staff on how to breastfeed right after giv-
ing birth? (Participant 12).

All working mothers agreed that the spouse, fam-
ily, friends, and healthcare staff should play their roles
in supporting mothers for successful breastfeeding. The
mothers hoped that their spouses and families could
assist them with housework while they were breastfeed-
ing and take care of the baby while they were working.

Page 6 of 8Ahmad?et?al. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth (2022) 22:85

This research aimed to explore the breastfeeding experi-
ences of working mothers. Three main themes emerged
from the data analysis: perception of breastfeeding, chal-
lenges in breastfeeding, and support for breastfeeding.
Two subthemes for perceptions were perception towards
breastfeeding and towards infant formula. Challenges
had two subthemes too which were related to perceived
insufficient milk and breastfeeding difficulty. Where else,
two subthemes for support were internal support (spouse
and family) and external support (friends, employer, and
healthcare staff ).

Although they mentioned that breast milk was the best
for their babies, when it came to work, they believed that
the type of job affected the practice of breastfeeding.
Some mothers said that employers play a role in provid-
ing facilities, such as special rooms, and flexible hours
for mothers to express milk when they are working.
The findings of this study are similar to those of Febri-
aningtyas et?al., who studied working mothers in Jakarta,
Indonesia. They found that working mothers face many
issues in breastfeeding, such as inappropriate breastfeed-
ing rooms, the distance from their working spots to the
breastfeeding rooms, a lack of facilities, limited time to
express milk, and a lack of support from employers [15].

Currently, at Malaysia perspective, working moth-
ers in the private sector were given maternity leave that
could range from 2 weeks to 2 months and government
sector allows 3 months of paid leave and can extend up
to 6 months? unpaid leave [16]. Working mothers in sen-
ior and high income receive same breastfeeding support
benefit from their employer. There was no difference in
breastfeeding support in term of job position.

The main challenge to continuing breastfeeding was
having insufficient breast milk, especially when the
mothers returned to work. This influenced their decision
to continue breastfeeding. Studies have found that insuf-
ficient milk, engorged breasts, and pain during breast-
feeding are the main challenges to breastfeeding during
confinement [17, 18].

Formula milk advertisements can influence breast-
feeding behavior by highlighting that the additional con-
tent in formula milk is deemed to increase the baby?s
intelligence, thus affecting the mothers? confidence in
breastfeeding their babies [19]. However, the Piwoz and
Huffman found that some mothers were not affected by
the advertisements because they perceived breast milk as
better than formula [19].

Mothers expect more support from those who are
close to them, such as their spouses and families. This
support includes take care of the baby when the moth-
ers are working. This finding is supported by previous
studies that found that the spouse?s positive perception

of breastfeeding and positive attitude toward providing
support to the mother in breastfeeding influenced the
mother?s decision to continue breastfeeding [20]. This is
a major factor influencing the practice of breastfeeding
[8, 21]. Mothers do not only need verbal support from
their spouses and families; the attitudes of the spouses
and family members toward helping with housework
while the mothers are breastfeeding are also significant,
in addition to being understanding about the working
mothers? situation and supporting them in their decision
to continue breastfeeding [22, 23]. Apart from the breast-
feeding experience and parity, support and encourage-
ment from spouses, families, health care provider [24]
and employers affect mother?s emotional well -being in
breastfeeding practice [25].

Employer support was also significant, especially in
providing facilities for working mothers to express and
store their breast milk [2, 26]. Many studies have shown
that the practice of breastfeeding declines once the
mothers return to work [4, 26?29]. In Malaysia there is
no formal breastfeeding break allocated for mothers dur-
ing working hours.

This study also showed that most working mothers felt
they received great support from healthcare staff, espe-
cially during childbirth. Previous studies have shown that
support from healthcare staff during confinement has a
positive influence on breastfeeding practice [30].

Strengths and?limitations of?the?study
This study provides new information regarding perception
of breastfeeding, challenges in breastfeeding and support
for breastfeeding among working mothers in Kelantan.
This study used primary data using a qualitative approach
that should be considered as a strength of study. However,
these study participants were employed mother only. Self-
employed mother was included but may have different
perception regarding breastfeeding, different challenges
in breastfeeding and different support for breastfeeding.
It is recommended that, for future studies including com-
parisons of breastfeeding experiences between mother
working with employer and self-employed mothers, as
well as including cultural norm breastfeeding practices
and their impact on exclusive breastfeeding practice.

Working mothers need support from their spouses,
families, friends, employers, and healthcare staff. This
finding indicates the need for interventions in the form
of simple and user-friendly breastfeeding education pro-
grams specifically for working mothers. Working moth-
ers have difficulties to enhance knowledge regarding
breastfeeding due to time limitations and work commit-
ments, this mother needs persistent motivation related

Page 7 of 8Ahmad?et?al. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth (2022) 22:85

to breastfeeding. Information on the causes of breast-
feeding challenges and how to overcome them is crucial
to preventing mothers from thinking that breastfeeding
is difficult, especially when they return to work.

Findings from this study provide important information
of challenging in breastfeeding and practical support for
breastfeeding among working mothers. The data can be
help employer in development of new policy and provide
breastfeeding support in working area. Employer should
be concerned related to flexible work schedules, providing
room for breastfeeding and pumping breast milk. Address-
ing these challenges will help breastfeeding mothers to be
productive employee return to work after delivery.

Supplementary Information
The online version contains supplementary material available at https:// doi.
org/ 10. 1186/ s12884- 021- 04304-4.

Additional file?1. Interview guide (translated to English and in Malay).

The author would like to express her gratitude to Universiti Sains Malaysia for
the utmost support in providing research facilities.

Authors? contributions
All authors have read and approved the manuscript. In addition, the contri-
bution for every author is as follows. RSA collected and analysed the data,
interpreted the results and drafted the manuscript. NHNH and HMN validated
the results, edited and revised the manuscript. ZS critically validated the data
and the results, edited and revised the manuscript.

Authors? information
Rita Surianee Ahmad (RSA): Bachelor of Nursing Science (Hons) (Open Univer-
sity Malaysia), Master of

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