Association of illness perceptions and exclusive breastfeeding intentions among pregnant women with chronic conditions: A community-based pregnancy cohort study

Publication Name

Journal of Psychosomatic Research


Objective: We examined whether changes in illness perceptions from preconception to pregnancy were associated with intentions to exclusively breastfeed to 6 months postpartum among women with chronic physical health conditions. Methods: We analyzed self-reported cross-sectional questionnaire data collected in the third trimester from 361 women with chronic conditions enrolled in a community-based cohort study (Alberta, Canada). For individual and total illness perceptions, measured with the Brief Illness Perception Questionnaire, women were classified using change scores (preconception minus pregnancy) into one of the following groups: “worsening,” “improving,” or “stable” in pregnancy. Intention to exclusively breastfeed was defined as plans to provide only breast milk for the recommended first 6 months after birth. We calculated odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) using multivariable logistic regression modelling, with the “stable” group as the reference and controlling for demographic factors, chronic condition duration and medication, prenatal class attendance, and social support. Results: Overall, 61.8% of women planned to exclusively breastfeed to 6 months. Worsened total illness perceptions (adjusted OR 0.50, 95% CI 0.30–0.82) as well as perceptions of worsened identity (i.e., degree of symptoms; adjusted OR 0.49, 95% CI 0.28–0.85) or consequences (i.e., impact on functioning; adjusted OR 0.60, 95% CI 0.34–1.06) were associated with lower odds of intending to exclusively breastfeed to 6 months. Conclusions: Women who perceive their illness experience to worsen during pregnancy are less likely to plan to exclusively breastfeed to 6 months in accordance with public health recommendations.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access



Article Number


Funding Sponsor

Alva Foundation



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