Demographics, health literacy and health locus of control beliefs of Australian women who take complementary medicine products during pregnancy and breastfeeding: A cross-sectional, online, national survey

Publication Name

Health Expectations


Background: Pregnant and breastfeeding women's use of complementary medicine products (CMPs) is common, and possibly associated with autonomous health care behaviours. However, the health literacy levels and health locus of control (HLOC) beliefs of women who use CMPs in pregnancy and lactation have not been previously assessed in a large Australian sample. Aim: The aim of this study is to determine the health literacy levels and HLOC beliefs of women who use CMPs in pregnancy and lactation and determine the types of CMPs used. Methods: A cross-sectional, national, online survey of Australian pregnant or breastfeeding women aged 18 years and older, and currently using CMPs was conducted. Results: A total of 810 completed surveys (354 pregnant and 456 breastfeeding women) were analysed. Most had adequate functional health literacy levels (93.3%). Health care practitioners (HCPs) HLOC mean scores were the highest for the sample, followed by Internal HLOC beliefs mean scores. Almost all (n = 809) took at least one dietary supplement, the most popular being pregnancy and breastfeeding multivitamins, iron supplements and probiotics. Use was generally in line with clinical recommendations, except for low rates of iodine supplementation. Herbal medicine use was lower for the total sample (57.3%, n = 464), but significantly higher (p <.0001) for the breastfeeding cohort, with consumers taking one to four herbal medicines each. The most popular herbs were raspberry leaf, ginger, peppermint and chamomile (pregnant respondents) and chamomile, ginger and fenugreek (breastfeeding respondents). Conclusions: Respondents were health literate, with high scores for Internal and HCP HLOC scales, suggesting that they are likely to demonstrate self-efficacy, positive health behaviours and work well in partnership with HCPs. HCPs can facilitate discussions with pregnant and breastfeeding women using CMPs, while considering women's health literacy levels, health beliefs and goals.

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Funding Sponsor

University of Sydney



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