Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Elisia Cohen


Breast milk is the best choice for meeting the nutritional needs for an infant whenever possible. Despite the knowledge that this nutritional choice is the best choice for an infant, data demonstrates that there is a sharp decline in the rates of breastfeeding mothers. Among African Americans, breastfeeding rates are significantly lower than the national averages. Despite many of the applications of social support in communication research, there is a gap in knowledge on the social support systems in the context of breastfeeding, especially for African Americans. With the social ecological model as a framework, social support theory provides understanding of the exchange between the mothers and their interpersonal relationships and community resources in the provision of emotional, tangible, and informational support. Study 1 consisted of focus group interviews with mothers and grandmothers. Mothers (n=16) discussed their experiences in receiving social support and grandmothers (n=12) discussed their experience giving social support to the mothers. The findings revealed the different communication and actions that mothers received from healthcare providers, peers, loved ones, strangers, and the grandmother of the child. Healthcare providers and peers seemed to have the largest positive communication in regards to a mother’s initiation and sustainment of breastfeeding; strangers had both positive and negative supportive interactions, and family members and grandmothers were reported to provide negative support. Further exploration into the mother/ grandmother communication detailed the dissonance between the giver of support (the grandmother) and the receiver (the mother). Study 2 explored how breastfeeding champions (community level support) reported providing social support to breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding champions (n= 13) provided positive emotional, tangible, and informational support to mothers. The findings from these studies are discussed in terms of family relationship dynamics, the types of community level support, and future directions for communication research.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)