Navigating through uncertainty: Breastfeeding the high-risk infant

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Nancy Hogan, Committee Chair


The purpose of this study was to understand the breastfeeding process mothers' face with their high-risk infants. Grounded theory methodology was used in this qualitative study to capture the richness of this experience. A purposive sample of 20 breastfeeding mothers, with diverse cultural backgrounds, whose babies had been discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit, was recruited. Open-ended, interactive, telephone interviews were conducted to obtain data. Coding procedures and constant comparative analysis were utilized for the simultaneous data collection and analysis. The core category that emerged from the data was, "Navigating through Uncertainty". Mothers described breastfeeding the high-risk infant as a "process that happened slowly over time" and was "full of unknowns". Five major categories observed in the data and subsumed by the core category included, Realizing something is wrong, Enduring the "heartbreak". Living with the changing reality day-by-day, Being a mother in the NICU, and Mothering the baby at home. The findings of this study suggest that these mothers exhibit physical and emotional stamina in their pursuit to breastfeed. Implications for nursing practice include providing parents with increased support systems and resources while the infants are in the NICU, helping mothers develop realistic expectations concerning the progression of breastfeeding, and offering anticipatory guidance and follow up resources for mothers as their infant approaches discharge.


Health Sciences, Obstetrics and Gynecology; Health Sciences, Nursing

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