Open Access Open Badges Research article

Contradictions and conflict: A meta-ethnographic study of migrant women’s experiences of breastfeeding in a new country

Virginia Schmied1*, Hannah Olley1, Elaine Burns1, Margie Duff1, Cindy-Lee Dennis2 and Hannah G Dahlen1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Nursing and Midwifery, Family and Community Health Research Group, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South DC, NSW, Australia

2 Department of Psychiatry, Canada Research Chair in Perinatal Community Health, Shirley Brown Chair in Women's Mental Health Research, Women's College Research Institute, University of Toronto Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, 155 College St, Toronto, ON, M5T 1P8, Canada

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2012, 12:163  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-163

Published: 27 December 2012



Studies report mixed findings about rates of both exclusive and partial breastfeeding amongst women who are migrants or refugees in high income countries. It is important to understand the beliefs and experiences that impact on migrant and refugee women’s infant feeding decisions in order to appropriately support women to breastfeed in a new country. The aim of this paper is to report the findings of a meta-ethnographic study that explored migrant and refugee women’s experiences and practices related to breastfeeding in a new country.


CINAHL, MEDLINE, PubMed, SCOPUS and the Cochrane Library with Full Text databases were searched for the period January 2000 to May 2012. Out of 2355 papers retrieved 11 met the inclusion criteria. A meta-ethnographic synthesis was undertaken using the analytic strategies and theme synthesis techniques of reciprocal translation and refutational investigation. Quality appraisal was undertaken using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) tool.


Eight qualitative studies and three studies reporting both qualitative and quantitative data were included and one overarching theme emerged: ‘Breastfeeding in a new country: facing contradictions and conflict’. This theme comprised four sub-themes ‘Mother’s milk is best’; ‘Contradictions and conflict in breastfeeding practices’; ‘Producing breast milk requires energy and good health’; and ‘The dominant role of female relatives’. Migrant women who valued, but did not have access to, traditional postpartum practices, were more likely to cease breastfeeding. Women reported a clash between their individual beliefs and practices and the dominant practices in the new country, and also a tension with family members either in the country of origin or in the new country.


Migrant women experience tensions in their breastfeeding experience and require support from professionals who can sensitively address their individual needs. Strategies to engage grandmothers in educational opportunities may offer a novel approach to breastfeeding support.

Meta-ethnography; Breastfeeding; Migrant; Immigrant; Refugee; Colostrum; Qualitative research