Maternal Experiences Breastfeeding Infants Later Diagnosed with Autism: A Qualitative Approach

Dooley, Leslie
Dooley, Leslie
Major Professor
Carla A. Peterson
Amy M. Popillion
Committee Member
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Human Development and Family Studies

Being a parent of a young child is both challenging and rewarding. Families who have a child that is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may face unique challenges based on early infant feeding behaviors. There are currently more people diagnosed with ASD than at any other time, making ASD the fastest-growing developmental disability, yet diagnosis often does not occur until a child is 4 years old. The increasing rates highlight the need to find accurate diagnosis and effective treatment at an early age for those who have increased risk of ASD. The earlier assessment and diagnosis can occur, the sooner a child and family can begin to receive treatment and support. The purpose of this study is to learn more about the infancy of children who are diagnosed with ASD, including breastfeeding and other behaviors, based on maternal recall of experiences during the first years of their child’s life. This study examined the networks of both formal and informal support that mothers accessed when breastfeeding their infants and provides a better understanding of the relationship between maternal observations, development, and infant feeding behaviors. Five women who have a child with an ASD diagnosis were interviewed. The analysis, findings, and interpretation provide a description of the infancy of children diagnosed with ASD based on the participants’ experiences. Six themes were constructed: (a) Breastfeeding as an intervention, (b) Suspicions, (c) Inexperience: First-time mothers, (d) Disposition, (e) Need for Support, and (f) Perseverance. Findings are consistent with prior studies on early indicators of ASD and provide new insight into the feeding behaviors of infants later diagnosed with ASD.