The National Breastfeeding Helpline Evaluation report

2.3 The research methods

Page last updated: 13 February 2013

The following research methods were undertaken for this project.

  • Data analysis — of policy and program documentation, and various administrative datasets to inform performance measurement including the cost effective analysis component of the project.
  • Survey analysis — exploring caller and counsellor perspectives.
  • Consultation — of key stakeholders and parents from priority population groups.
  • Desktop review — of relevant websites and literature.

Data analysis

The evaluation included a review of related policy and program documentation. This information provided the background and context for the project, and informed the development of the evaluation framework.

Data was also sourced from different agreements and administrative datasets providing information about activity and outputs associated with the delivery of telephone helplines.

Data analysis in this report included data from the sources in Table 2.2.

Data Sets

Data setDetail
National Breastfeeding Helpline funding agreementsProvided by the Department, the funding agreements outline the aim, scope and reporting requirements associated with the delivery of the Breastfeeding Helpline and the training and education component for volunteer counsellors and health professionals.
National Breastfeeding Helpline progress reportsAccessed from ABA and the Department for the period of December 2010 to March 2012, providing summary detail on numbers and characteristics of calls.
ABA administrative data setsABA monthly administrative data for the six Breastfeeding Helpline performance measures.
Comparator helpline administrative dataAccessed about an existing helpline to inform the development of the cost effectiveness analysis component of the project.
StrategyCo researchAugmented primary research data collected through the evaluation's survey instruments.

Survey analysis

With the approval of the Department and cooperation of the ABA, two surveys were implemented during the project. The caller and counsellor surveys ran over the period 28 May to 17 June 2012. Breastfeeding Counsellors working on the Helpline were briefed on the surveys and where appropriate, directed callers at the end of the discussion, to the ABA website to participate in the survey.

Individual emails were sent to each counsellor rostered on during the survey implementation period inviting their involvement in the counsellor survey. For counsellors, access to the survey was through a link included in the email invitation to participate.

Email reminders were sent to counsellors rostered on in that current week on two occasions over the survey period, which prompted their participation in both referring callers to the survey and completing their own survey.

The survey analysis for this report was based on survey results obtained over a period of 18 days (approximately two and a half weeks). The size of the survey samples included a total of 99 callers to the Breastfeeding Helpline who had participated in the caller survey, and 174 ABA Breastfeeding Helpline volunteer counsellors who had participated in the counsellor survey.

A limitation of the caller survey was that it provided perceptions about information sources and the Breastfeeding Helpline from a sample of mothers currently using the service. This was overcome to some extent by other components of information collection, which provided wider access to public perceptions, both directly and indirectly as described below.

Caller and counsellor survey instruments are included at Appendix B..


The evaluation included consultation with key stakeholders from the Department, ABA, jurisdictional representatives and professional associations. Small focus group discussions were also held with mothers from a number of different population groups. Discussion guides were developed for consultation with stakeholders other than the Department and ABA.

Consultations were conducted with the following stakeholders:
  • Department of Health and Ageing;
  • Australian Breastfeeding Association;
  • Breastfeeding Jurisdictional Officers Group (BJOG) (not including NSW and the NT); and
  • professional associations (Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand and Australian College of Midwives/Baby Friendly Health Initiative) .
Input from maternal and child health workers was available through feedback provided by a number of BJOG members.
  • Focus groups were held with a total of 14 new mothers from the following population groups:
  • mothers with disabilities (conducted as semi structured telephone interviews);
  • young mothers;
  • mothers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; and
  • mothers from a growth corridor in the outer suburbs of Melbourne.
The final focus group with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers was not able to meet in the required project timeframes. As an alternative, consultation was undertaken with the breastfeeding support group coordinator at the Aboriginal Health Service.

The full list of stakeholders consulted and details about each of the focus groups is provided at Appendix C.

Desktop review

A targeted desktop review was conducted to explore service enablers and barriers in the provision of telephone breastfeeding support, and to explore forms of support currently available to breastfeeding mothers.

The targeted review of literature was sourced from the Medline database for academic articles published between 2000 and 2012. A search for grey literature from non-government organisations, academic institutes and government agencies was also undertaken. Search terms included non-government organisation and service delivery, breastfeeding, interventions, practice, support, telephone and helplines.

A snapshot of different telephone helplines and online support was also developed to populate the landscape of current support available and to identify differentiation amongst them.