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Lactation, Family, Premature infant, Neonatal intensive care unit



  1. Bernaix, Laura W. PhD, RN
  2. Schmidt, Cynthia A. PhD, RN
  3. Jamerson, Patricia A. PhD, RN
  4. Seiter, Lorraine BSN, RN, IBCLC
  5. Smith, Joan MSN, RNC, NNP


Purpose: To describe the impact of having a premature infant hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) on the parents' management of the lactation experience.


Study Design and Methods: A descriptive study using interviews was conducted with nine couples who had decided to breastfeed, and who were parents of premature infants, 24 to 32 weeks gestation, hospitalized in a large, Midwestern NICU. The family management style conceptual framework guided the study. Qualitative descriptive methods were used to analyze the transcribed data.


Results: The situational context of having a premature infant in the NICU was defined as "stressful," "frightening," and "difficult," while the experience of providing breast milk was defined in terms of "altered expectations," "difficulties," and "rewards." These definitions along with the management behaviors of each parent validated three family management-style typologies for lactation in families of premature infants: facilitating, maintaining, and obstructing.


Clinical Implications: The family management style of lactation, which can be easily ascertained by interviewing families, may be a useful tool in planning appropriate interventions to promote lactation success.