Methods: We extracted a total of 258 original messages and 1,445 corresponding comments from Babycenter.com’s breastfeeding support forum posted over a 10-day period in August 2017. Using content analysis, we coded the 258 original messages into 15 categories reflective of the types of information users were seeking. We then randomly selected 45 conversation threads (including the original message and all its corresponding comments) across the nine most popular categories and developed a separate codebook to generate themes reflective of what (content) and how (process) users were sharing information on the online support forum.
Results: The nine most popular breastfeeding topics for which users sought out information included feeding challenges, supply issues, feeding schedule and duration, pumping, physical health, excretion issues, storing milk, nipple issues, and general breastfeeding questions. With regard to the content of information sharing, three themes emerged: knowledge, experience, and encouragement. Users shared their knowledge through advocacy (e.g., providing arguments in favor of breastfeeding) and resources (e.g., providing suggestions for books, websites). They shared their experience through providing instructions (i.e. explicit directives, advice to seek medical help) and reviews of breastfeeding equipment. They shared encouragement through comments such as, “you’re doing great.” With regard to the process of information sharing, an additional two themes emerged: interviewing questions and agreeing with previous posts. Users asked others to clarify their comment or expand on their questions so as to provide better advice. They also built consensus using the forum by agreeing with other comments.
Conclusions: Online support forums are actively being used by breastfeeding mothers seeking information from other mothers who have experienced similar situations. Social networking is an important resource for breastfeeding mothers and may therefore be strategically integrated into future breastfeeding interventions to increase rates of breastfeeding.