My sincere thanks to all those who posted or registered on the Forum during the three days of October 2007, thus agreeing to be part of the research for my Master of Public Health minor thesis through La Trobe University. The thesis has now been passed by the University and a summary appears below. Should you be interested in more detailed information about the results of the research, please contact me, Genevieve Cowie, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Traditional methods of local mother-to-mother support in establishing and maintaining breastfeeding and other early parenting skills have now extended into cyberspace, however there is little research on electronic peer support in this and related areas. I examined the electronic discussion board (Forum) of the Australian Breastfeeding Association which is moderated by trained peers (Breastfeeding Counsellors and Community Educators) rather than health professionals. The contents of all messages posted on the discussion board in a three day period were analysed as was the process of moderation of these messages and the personal profiles of those posting or registering as members of the Forum during those three days.
Almost all those who posted on the board were apparently female and gave much personal and sociodemographic information about themselves and their children. More than half of the participants gave enough information for them to be potentially identified and they largely ignored any risks associated with this. The Forum almost universally gave emotional support to the participants and most users expressed their emotions in their messages. A much less frequent use of the Forum was to give factual advice or opinions as was the clear seeking of emotional support and general facts or advice. It is perhaps surprising that the range of topics discussed was dominated by general parenting followed by various breastfeeding topics. It is clear that the Forum was also used by the women for general discussion that had little to do with their parenting roles specifically and more to do with general social support. Response times to posts were generally quick during day and evening hours and reasonable overnight. This is partly related to the large size of the Forum, the internet’s ability to cross time zones, as well as to the contributions of some enthusiastic ‘night owls’. The moderators directly contributed to the pleasant tone and the development of a friendly Forum culture.
A discussion board such as the ABA Forum that is moderated by lay people rather than health professionals can therefore be a worthwhile resource for parents in need of reassurance, general support or information, whether in or out of hours.
If you would like to ask ABA members and readers of this forum for help with your research, please seek permission from the Breastfeeding Information and Research team - email@example.com Approved requests will then be forwarded on by the BIR team to ABA-Admin for posting here.
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