IrSPEN 2022/23 Award for Best Overall Research Project, BSc Human Nutrition and Dietetics (join Trinity-TU Dublin) programme

Laura McGoldrick  has been awarded the prize for the best undergraduate research project for the BSc Human Nutrition and Dietetics class of 2022-3

Laura McGoldrick graduated from the BSc Human Nutrition and Dietetics degree in 2023 and is honoured to have been awarded the IrSPEN Award for ‘Best Overall Project Mark’. Laura is now a CORU registered Dietitian working in Pre-diabetes and Weight Management in the Benbulbin Chronic Disease Management Hub, Sligo. She is excited to be working in an area of dietetics where the evidence base for patient centred care is rapidly growing.

Research Summary:

Laura’s research project is titled ‘Experiences of Antenatal Breastfeeding Supports within the Irish Healthcare System: A Qualitative Analysis’.

Breastfeeding rates in Ireland are amongst the lowest in the world, with breastfeeding no longer being the cultural norm. There is an opportunity in the antenatal period to educate pregnant woman and their families on the benefits and realities of breastfeeding, which may help them make an informed infant feeding decision. This research aimed to investigate individuals’ experiences of antenatal breastfeeding supports within the Irish healthcare system.

A cross-sectional survey carried out in Ireland collected data from parents who had breastfed or considered breastfeeding their child between January 2019 and December 2021. Responses (n = 2,180) to an open-ended (qualitative) question exploring experiences of antenatal breastfeeding supports within the Irish healthcare system were analysed in this research project, using Braun and Clarke’s thematic analysis framework. Two main themes were identified. These were: ‘abandoned by the system’, and ‘vague and sugar coated’.

The first theme, ‘abandoned by the system’, had three subthemes: ‘support was insufficient’, ‘support was not proactively offered’, and ‘support was inequitable’. Overall, this theme highlighted the lack of support participants received. Many felt that they received little to no support, with antenatal classes often being cancelled or moved online. Some mothers reported having to enquire about supports that were available, as they were not proactively offered by healthcare professionals (HCPs), while others sought out private care as they felt the support available through the public system was inadequate.

The second theme, ‘vague and sugar coated’, had two subthemes: ‘information received through the healthcare system was unsatisfactory’ and ‘social media as a main source of information’. This theme highlighted the shortcomings in information provided on breastfeeding; the lack of information on common issues experienced, where to find supports, and how partners/ family/ friends can provide support. HCPs often gave conflicting or dated information, which was confusing for participants. Since information received through the healthcare system was lacking, many participants reported sourcing most of their information from social media, which they found to be more helpful.

In conclusion, there needs to be an overall improvement in the quantity and quality of antenatal breastfeeding support and information provided by the Irish healthcare system to all pregnant women and their families. The importance of social media as a main source of information has been highlighted, and the healthcare system should consider having an official presence there specifically dedicated to breastfeeding. Further research is needed exploring antenatal breastfeeding support provided from the healthcare professionals’ (HCPs) perspective.

Laura would like to thank the participants of the study who generously shared their valuable experiences, and the members of Bainne Beatha, who in their own time, choose to advocate for better breastfeeding supports in Irish maternity and healthcare services. She would also like to thank her supervisor, Dr Elizabeth O’Sullivan, who kindly provided guidance and advice throughout the project.