Barriers and facilitators to breastfeeding support practices in a neonatal intensive care unit in Colombia


  • Haley Abugov Montreal Children’s Hospital, McGill University Health Center
  • Sandra Catalina Ochoa Marín University of Antioquia
  • Sonia Semenic McGill University
  • Isabel Cristina Arroyave Hospital Universitario San Vicente Fundación



infant, newborn, breast feeding, intensive care units, neonatal, milk, human, quality improvement


Objective. To assess breastfeeding support practices and related barriers and facilitators in a large Intensive Care Unit, Neonatal (NICU) in Medellín, Colombia, as part of a broader quality improvement initiative to enhance breastfeeding support.

Methods. A mixed-methods descriptive design was used to collect data on care practices and outcomes related to NICU breastfeeding support. Data sources included the Neo-BFHI’s self-assessment questionnaire of breastfeeding policies and practices, clinical observations, and a retrospective review of 51 patient charts.

Results. Of the 51 charts reviewed, 98% of the infants received breastmilk during their hospitalization but the majority (84%) also received formula and only 8% of infants were exclusively breastfed at the time of NICU discharge. All NICU staff received education on mother and baby-friendly care, and the unit complied with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk substitutes. However, resources to support lactation (e.g., access to breastfeeding specialists, breast pumps, written teaching materials for parents) were limited, and infants were only allowed to consume milk expressed within the hospital. Mother-infant separation, as well as staff beliefs and care routines, also limited important breastfeeding support practices such as skin-to-skin care and early initiation of direct breastfeeding.

Conclusion. The self-assessment questionnaire and observations revealed a high value for breastfeeding and a family-centered approach to care in the NICU. Key challenges to sustaining breastfeeding in the NICU included a lack of facilities for supporting parental presence, barriers to expression and provision of mother’s milk, and a high rate of bottle-feeding with formula.

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Author Biographies

Haley Abugov, Montreal Children’s Hospital, McGill University Health Center

R.N., M.Sc.(A), Montreal Children’s Hospital, McGill University Health Center (Canada). Email:

Sandra Catalina Ochoa Marín, University of Antioquia

R.N., Ph.D. University of Antioquia, Faculty of Nursing, Medellín (Colombia). Email:

Sonia Semenic, McGill University

R.N., Ph.D. McGill University, Ingram School of Nursing (Canada). Email:

Isabel Cristina Arroyave, Hospital Universitario San Vicente Fundación

R.N., Ph.D. Hospital Universitario San Vicente Fundación, Medellín (Colombia). Email:


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How to Cite

Abugov, H., Ochoa Marín, S. C., Semenic, S., & Arroyave, I. C. (2021). Barriers and facilitators to breastfeeding support practices in a neonatal intensive care unit in Colombia. Investigación Y Educación En Enfermería, 39(1).




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