Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Public Health

Major Professor

Ellen Daley, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Karen Perrin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephanie Marhefka, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Anoinette Jackson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Miller, Ph.D.


African American mothers, Black Feminist Thought, Breastfeeding, Information Sharing, Symbolic Interactionism


Breastfeeding is associated with unparalleled benefits for infants, mothers, families and society. In light of the breastfeeding disparities and health disparities experienced by the African American community, their women and children stand to gain the most from breastfeeding practices compared to other first-food feeding methods. Moreover, African American mothers are constantly exposed to messages, images, and stereotypes about motherhood (from multiple channels of communication) which influences their infant feeding practices. Many of these exposures send mixed messages and tend to be cultural contradictions of Black motherhood. What complicates this issue is the shortage of research that investigates the intergenerational infant feeding information that is shared among African American families. Research shows that an African American woman’s own mother and also maternal grandmother tend to be a primary source of parenting support and guidance for her. And, accurate information and adequate support are crucial components to helping women breastfeed.

The purpose of this qualitative dissertation study is three-fold, to: 1) explore how and what infant feeding information is shared across at least two generations of African American women; 2) understand meaning-making, within African American families, about the intergenerational infant feeding information (including stories, messages and experiences) that is shared across generations; and 3) explore the perceived intergenerational influence of the shared infant feeding information on the infant feeding behaviors of the youngest generation of African American women (the primary participant; PP). Collins’ Black Feminist Thought and Blumer’s Symbolic Interactionism theory provide the theoretical framework for this study.

The lived experiences of these African American women were examined utilizing ethnographic methodology. Purposeful and snowball sampling techniques were used to recruit 15 female family dyads or triads (N=35 women). Women who met the inclusion and exclusion criteria, and expressed an interest in participating in a one-on-one, in-depth interview were invited to participate in the study. A methodological development in the form of the Intergenerational Perspective of Reproductive Life Stages Framework was developed during the analytical phase to display and examine the interview data. Data were coded for common and unique expressions. Thematic analysis was used to obtain the most important emergent themes.

With respect to the specific infant feeding information that was shared across three generations of African American women, four main themes emerged: “Guidance”, “Practical Assistance”, “Reservations”, and “Affirmation”. Additionally, among Primary Participant Mothers (PPMs) one other theme emerged, “Observational learning”. Furthermore, among PPs, two additional themes emerged, “Observational learning” and “Perceived undermining”. Each generation positively discussed the meaning they assigned to this shared information. Finally, this study found that the perceived levels of influence depended on the infant feeding history of each family. Thus, the more breastfeeding experience (duration and frequency) a family had, when examining the past three generations, the more influential each generation perceived the infant feeding information to be.

The study findings provided evidence of the significance of involving female family members within the context of shared infant feeding information. This revelation is important because in this cultural setting, there appeared to be a valuation of the bonds created among these women, which supports the intergenerational sharing of infant feeding information, experience and insights. Given that infant feeding information was shared (both knowingly and unknowingly) at four prominent reproductive life stages of PPs (i.e., preconception, prenatal, birth, and post-birth), this underscores the need for culturally sensitive breastfeeding programs and interventions being implemented at different time points that aim to support, protect, promote and normalize breastfeeding in African American communities.

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Public Health Commons