Breastfeeding among mothers in the public health sector: the role of the occupational therapist

Marieta Visser, Mariette Nel, Tanya la Cock, Netske Labuschagne, Wihanli Lindeque, Annelize Malan, Carli Viljoen


Background and aim: South Africa has an unacceptably high child mortality rate. Preventable causes such as malnutrition account for the majority of these deaths. Breastfeeding as infant feeding practice is recognised for the potential to radically reduce child mortality and is therefore promoted globally. Yet, SA presents with the lowest breastfeeding rates worldwide. Breastfeeding is a child rearing co-occupation, and occupational therapists (OTs) are well positioned to become role players on a transdisciplinary level to address the infant child mortality rate through promoting and supporting breastfeeding. Although not well described in the literature and traditionally not considered as a role, this study aimed to determine the role of the OT in addressing breastfeeding among mothers in the public health sector (PHS).

Method: A purposive sample of 9 OTs from Bloemfontein working in the PHS participated in this study. An e-Delphi technique was used to set up four rounds of sequential questionnaires developed from and structured according to the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework (OTPF) Domain and Process.

Results: From the 128 initial statements, 95 statements reached consensus determined at 80%. Statements were clustered according to OT roles identified, which included clinician, consultant, educator, trainer, advocate and facilitator.

Conclusion: OTs have a role to play in addressing breastfeeding among mothers in the PHS, within a transdisciplinary team. If OTs aligned their practice with global and national initiatives and policies, the population-based health issue of infant child mortality could be addressed collectively.

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ISSN 0038-2337 (print), ISSN 2310-3833 (online)

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