Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Mary Z. Anderson

Second Advisor

Dr. Gary H. Bischof

Third Advisor

Dr. Karen Horneffer-Ginter,


Vocational psychologists have been called to expand the traditional discourses related to work and career to address the actual work experiences of individuals, especially those of the working class. Breastfeeding rates are on the rise among employed women and mothers of low-income, but little is known about women of low income who seek to concurrently work and breastfeed. Work-family interface theories suggest employed mothers of low-income may experience conflict and/or enhancement through multiple roles. The purpose of this research was to answer the call to vocational psychologists, give voice to the narratives around breastfeeding and work among lowincome mothers, and to evaluate the extent to which work-family interface theories (work-family conflict and role enhancement) were sufficient for understanding and organizing these narratives.

Participants were six WIC-qualified mothers who were currently breastfeeding and intending to return to work within six months postpartum. A longitudinal design was employed; participants were interviewed on three occasions, once prior to their postpartum return to employment and twice after they resumed work. Phenomenological data analysis methods resulted in individual narratives, descriptive themes, interpretive themes, and a collective narrative. The descriptive themes were: 1) Breastfeeding is "Best," 2) Emotionally, Breastfeeding "Feels Good," 3) Bottle feeding is "Normal," 4) Work is Necessary, 5) Juggling Work and Motherhood is Doable, 6) Adjustments are Needed, 7) Time and Effort Matter, and 8) Weaning is Bittersweet. Interpretive themes were: 1) Knowledge Doesn't Equal Success, 2) Difficult to Overcome Low Supply, 3) Supply and Duration: Workplace Characteristics Matter, 4) Job Satisfaction: Breastfeeding Support Matters, 5) Supply and Duration: Maternal Attitude Matters Too.

In isolation, neither work-conflict theory nor role enhancement theory were sufficient for describing participants' experiences, though some support was found for each theory. This suggests that these theories may function in combination. Three factors were discussed as most salient when it came to breastfeeding duration: 1) personal comfort with breastfeeding, 2) type of intervention implemented when problems arose, and 3) structural and attitudinal support in the workplace. For each of these factors, implications for the practice of breastfeeding support professionals and research on the interface of breastfeeding and work are discussed.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access