The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

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Changes in Student Attitudes Regarding Breastfeeding in a Pediatric Feeding & Swallowing Course

Recently a SoTL project allowed me to meet a longstanding research goal. I keep a list of things I’d like to accomplish someday, and one of them was “publish in the Journal of Human Lactation.” JHL seemed like a reach for me: I’m not running studies with thousands of participants; I’m not supervising humanitarian efforts in the developing world. But when they issued a notice about an upcoming special issue, I decided to write up some SoTL data.

attitudeThis seeds for particular project were planted in my first year at ISU. I was assigned to teach pediatric dysphagia — a class focused on the assessment and treatment of children’s feeding and swallowing problems — to graduate students in speech-language pathology. The first time I taught by the class, I was taken aback by the intensity of some students’ reactions to breastfeeding. Even in their post-class reflections, some of them were still uncomfortable with the idea of working with a mother who hoped to breastfeed her baby.

The next two times I taught the class, I collected data on student attitudes. On the first day of the term, I asked them to write about their own perceptions of “normal” with regard to infant feeding. I asked them about some hypothetical scenarios, and about what was typical in their own families. They repeated the exercise at the end of the class. In between, they came to class to learn more about infant feeding practices. They participated in discussions about feeding controversies. They read scholarly articles and talked to feeding therapists. Most important of all, they heard from parents who had struggled to feed their infants.

When I analyzed their responses, the importance of parents’ stories came up over and over again. “I didn’t realize how hard it was for them,” my students told me. In addition to the qualitative elements, I had Likert-type scale data that allowed me to quantify changes in student attitudes. Across both the 2014 and 2016 cohorts, there were highly significant changes in students’ acceptance of breastfeeding.

Reviewing this data was valuable for me as an instructor, because it allowed me to see that meaningful change in prior attitudes can be accompanied by lingering hesitation about the unfamiliar. One student described the change in this way: Revisiting this question three weeks later has made me realize I may have been a little harsh in Part 1. I still am not completely on board with the idea of breastfeeding … but I now have more knowledge of breastfeeding [after] taking this class, and feel a bit more comfortable than before.

My primary hope is that our students will be able to provide evidence-based services to the families they encounter in the workplace, assisted by evidence-based classroom practices. This project also allowed me to meet a long-term research goal: the paper describing my students’ experiences will appear in the February 2018 issue of the Journal of Human Lactation.