Original Research

Vulnerable mothers’ experience of feeding their preterm infant in neonatal care

Elanie A. van Schalkwyk, Berna Gerber
South African Journal of Communication Disorders | Vol 68, No 1 | a842 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajcd.v68i1.842 | © 2021 Elanie A. van Schalkwyk, Berna Gerber | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 May 2021 | Published: 28 October 2021

About the author(s)

Elanie A. van Schalkwyk, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Therapy, Faculty of Medicine and Health, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Berna Gerber, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Therapy, Faculty of Medicine and Health, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

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Background: Worldwide, preterm birth is a rising threat to maternal and child health. The universal challenges of being the mother of a preterm infant, combined with context-specific challenges such as poverty and poor linguistic and cultural representation, bring about risks for both mother and infant. This includes poor maternal mental health; poor mother–infant bonding and attachment and potential suboptimal developmental outcomes for the infant.

Objective: This article describes how Afrikaans-speaking mothers living in poverty experienced feeding their preterm infants in neonatal care.

Method: The study implemented a cross-sectional, qualitative design. Mothers of preterm infants (chronological ages between 3 and 6 months) were selected through a purposive sampling method and participated in individual semi-structured interviews. Nine interviews were thematically analysed. The participants were a vulnerable group, about whom little research literature was available.

Results: Feeding was perceived as a progressive task that worked towards the goal of discharge from the hospital. It was stressful because of various factors, but insufficient breastmilk supply was a significant contributor. The hospital setting was perceived as something that added to the participants’ anxiety surrounding feeding, but at the same time, it had the potential to decrease their anxiety. When the mother–infant dyad was able to breastfeed successfully, it made the participants feel like mothers at last after an extended period of anticipation.

Conclusion: Feeding their preterm infant was a prominent experience for the mothers, especially whilst in neonatal care. Increased feeding support is required from the healthcare team providing neonatal care in order to optimally use the neonatal period.


vulnerable mothers; experiences; feeding; breastfeeding; preterm infants; neonatal care


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