Funded PhD Opportunity EMDR therapy in women with previous negative or traumatic breastfeeding experiences

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Nursing and Health


Every pregnant woman has to make a decision about infant feeding.  The outcome decision is affected by many factors including personal experience, social and cultural factors, education, policy and cultural practices. The WHO message is clear: breastfeeding is the norm and UNICEF and the Baby Friendly Initiative support this. However, the breastfeeding rates in Northern Ireland are the lowest in the UK.  Therefore, it is important to conduct research studies that help us to identify the key factors that influence the decision NOT to breastfeed so that targeted interventions can be developed and tested.

We know from the literature that many women have negative and disempowering breastfeeding experiences and may feel traumatised by their lack of success in achieving their breastfeeding goal.  It is therefore important to explore the nature of women’s experiences and to ascertain if Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy might enable women to process the previous experience and be open to another attempt at mastering the behaviour with their subsequent baby.

Examining EDMR is timely as little is known about the effects of applying the therapy during pregnancy, childbirth and the early postnatal period (Baas et al. 2017). This study aims to identify mothers who had a previous negative breastfeeding experience and are afraid to engage in the behaviour again. These women will be offered EMDR therapy to see if it enables them to re-engage in the breastfeeding behaviour and achieve their personal breastfeeding goal.

The main aim of the study is to determine whether EMDR therapy is an effective and safe treatment for women with previous negative or traumatic breastfeeding experiences in achieving their breastfeeding goals.


Quasi-experimental Sample

Women who had a previous negative breastfeeding experience will be recruited using social media and invited to take part in the study. Power analysis will be used to estimate the sample size

Data collection approaches

The first stage of the study will be exploratory and descriptive using online chat and email to gauge the factors surrounding women’s previous negative breastfeeding experience. A sub sample of women who complete the online data collection and are willing to support the intervention arm of the study will be invited to take part in the next stage of the study where they will have pre-birth measures of anxiety and trauma taken prior to being randomised into receiving either normal care or EMDR therapy.

Intervention arm

Traumatic factors will be identified and an intervention provided using EMDR therapy sessions x3. These sessions will be delivered by specifically trained health professionals. Post birth data will be collected and repeat measures applied Main outcome: The main outcome is successful breastfeeding behaviour

Data analyses:

Data analyses will include qualitative and quantitative measures.

Outcomes: This study will provide evidence of the effectiveness of EMDR as a suitable intervention for reducing trauma associated with previous breastfeeding experience.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Launch of the Doctoral College

Current PhD researchers and an alumnus shared their experiences, career development and the social impact of their work at the launch of the Doctoral College at Ulster University.

Watch Video


From my personal experience, I know Ulster University is extremely welcoming, and it provides students with fantastic facilities. In Nursing and Midwifery, it is renowned in the UK. So I sincerely encourage and advise you to consider studying at Ulster University as your top option.

Professor Chien-Huei Kao - PhD Midwifery

Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 18 February 2019
Interview Date
Mid March 2019


Jordanstown campus

Jordanstown campus
The largest of Ulster's campuses

Contact Supervisor

Professor Marlene Sinclair

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #343463 when applying for this PhD opportunity