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Information Pump

Doctoral Candidate’s Research Seeks to Broaden Perceptions of Breastfeeding

By Annie Krakower

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Illustration by Jason A. Keisling

Illustration by Jason A. Keisling

Here’s a tip you won’t find in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”: Head to social media for advice on feeding your baby. But after Fiona Jardine M.L.S. ’14, Ph.D. ’20 had her daughter in 2016, the only place she got adequate information on something as personal as breastfeeding was Facebook.

Like many mothers, Jardine experienced problems breastfeeding when Georgie had a tongue tie and couldn’t latch. Hoping to avoid a switch to formula, she decided to solely use a breast pump. But despite taking breastfeeding classes, doing research and meeting with a doula, she found little guidance on exclusively using that method.

Now, the doctoral candidate in information studies is helping to fill that gap. Through her 170-question survey taken by more than 2,000 exclusive pumpers, Jardine is analyzing their experiences and reasons for choosing the approach, with hopes of helping them feel less alone.

“Their lactation consultants didn’t tell them anything about it,” Jardine says. “They’ve often had negative reactions from health care providers. They’ve been told that it’s not breastfeeding, or they’re being told that it’s not sustainable.”

The former lawyer isn’t one to let problems persist. After beginning her career in death penalty defense, Jardine met her wife and, when they were ready for a child, testified before the Maryland Senate in a successful fight for equal fertility benefits for same-sex couples.

In her latest endeavor, the basis of her dissertation project, Jardine uncovers insights into exclusive pumping for both health care providers and women breastfeeding this way.

For example, many mothers are told to simply try harder to feed at the breast, but that’s often not a choice. Jardine found that around 70% of respondents reported situations similar to hers, where their baby couldn’t latch. Other reasons for exclusively pumping included problems with the mother’s anatomy, babies spending weeks or months in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit and the need to track an infant’s exact milk intake for health reasons. Less than 10% said they “just wanted to.”

As for the method being unsustainable, Jardine’s research found that exclusive pumpers on average successfully used the approach for more than eight months.

Jardine, a finalist in the Universitas 21 Three-Minute Thesis competition for explaining her research compellingly and concisely, is also working on the campus’ Need to Feed project to improve feeding facilities and designing inclusive baby feeding symbols that feature illustrated breast pumps. She hopes to open a milk expression research lab and is writing an evidence-based guide to exclusive pumping.

“What’s so important about her research is that she’s been there,” says survey respondent Joyce Arnold. “It harkens to something that’s important in moms.”

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