Date of Award

January 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling Psychology & Community Services

First Advisor

Kara B. Wettersten


The purpose of this study was to examine first-time mothers’ perceptions of the interaction between their partner relationship, transition to parenthood, and breastfeeding. The study utilized the qualitative method of constructivist grounded theory (CGT) to achieve these means. Participants included eight primiparous and cohabiting and partnered mothers. Each participant was between 3 to 8 months postpartum when they completed a semi-structured 1.5 to 2 hour phone interview. They were asked questions related to their experiences with becoming new parents and breastfeeding, including changes, challenges, and overcoming barriers. They were also asked to share their views and feelings related to their partner relationship, including how parenthood and breastfeeding have impacted emotional and physical intimacy with their partners, as well as how the partner relationship has impacted breastfeeding. Lastly, the mothers shared about their decision to breastfeed, their perseverance, and their commitment to continuing breastfeeding. In line with CGT, data was then organized and analyzed. A model was developed that explained the participants’ experiences with the interaction of breastfeeding and the partner relationship. The components of the model included (a) getting on board: the decision to breastfeed, (b) holding on tight: perseverance through struggles, (c) focusing on the baby and teamwork, (d) role shuffling, (e) settling into the routine and roles, (f) nurturing the partner relationship, (g) feeling grounded, and (h) being present and responsiveness across systems. The Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991, 2011) was incorporated with these components to further support a model of how the partner alliance contributes to the mother’s decision to initiate and continue breastfeeding. A literature review of the study variables is included and explores the transition to parenthood, partner relationship functioning and satisfaction, and breastfeeding. In addition, limitations are addressed with recommendations for future research. Lastly, implications of the current study findings are discussed, including considerations related to perinatal education, couples counseling, and peer and health professional support programs.