For Day 2 of WBW we are very pleased to have a guest blog by Health Visitor and Clinical Research Fellow Dr. Sharin Baldwin.
Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants and its associated benefits to the infant, mother and the wider public health are well documented. Traditionally breastfeeding promotion and advice have been targeted at expectant and new mothers, with an aim to increasing breastfeeding rates in infants. In recent years it has been acknowledged that partners play an important role in supporting women’s decision to breastfeed, while also providing practical and emotional support with the continuation of breastfeeding. Research highlights the important role of fathers in promoting and supporting their partners with breastfeeding (Tohotoa et al., 2011; Datta et al., 2012; Sherriff et al., 2014; Hansen et al., 2018), but in practice fathers continue to report inadequate levels of information and support from health professionals. Training for health professionals therefore should consider men’s needs relating to breastfeeding promotion and support, as well as women’s.
New fathers have often reported finding their partner’s breastfeeding experiences to be much more difficult than they had originally anticipated, with many not knowing how to help or support their partner with breastfeeding when they experienced difficulties (Baldwin et al, 2018; 2019). This is where health professionals can really make a difference. They can help educate and prepare expectant fathers better during the antenatal period by providing them with ‘realistic’ information about the time it may take for their partner to establish breastfeeding. It is also important to highlight some of the breastfeeding challenges they may face in early parenthood and what strategies or support are available to overcome them. This will help men to develop more realistic expectations of the processes involved with establishing breastfeeding and make them feel more empowered to support their partner when faced with any difficulties.
While fathers may not be able to be directly breastfeed their babies, they need to know that they play a crucial role in making breastfeeding a success. They can provide practical support to their partners through helping with household duties, giving them a massage, allowing them to rest, making meals and drinks for them, and giving them emotional support through regular praise, reassurance and encouragement. Good levels of breastfeeding support are likely to make the process easier and more enjoyable, while giving women the confidence to continue breastfeeding for longer. Fathers’ involvement in breastfeeding not only has the potential to increase breastfeeding rates and duration, but also contribute to better outcomes for babies, mothers and the wider public health agenda. So, let’s not forget about including fathers when having those crucial discussions and training about breastfeeding!
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Baldwin, S., Malone, M., Sandall, J., Bick, D. (2018) Mental health and wellbeing during the transition to fatherhood: a systematic review of first-time fathers’ experiences. JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation reports, 16(11):2118–91.
Baldwin, S., Malone, M., Sandall, J., Bick, D. (2019) A qualitative exploratory study of UK first-time fathers’ experiences, mental health and wellbeing needs during their transition to fatherhood. BMJ Open 2019;9:e030792. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2019-030792 https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/9/9/e030792.info
Datta, J., Graham, B., Wellings, K. (2012) The role of fathers in breastfeeding: decision-making and support. British Journal of Midwifery, 20(3):159–167.
Hansen, E., Tesch, L., Ayton, J. (2018) ‘They’re born to get breastfed’- how fathers view breastfeeding: a mixed method study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 18:238 https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-018-1827-9
Sherriff, N., Hall, V., Panton, C. (2014) Engaging and supporting fathers to promote breast feeding: A concept analysis. Midwifery, 30: 667–677.
Tohotoa, J., Maycock, B., Hauck, Y.L., Howat, P., Burns, S., Binns, C.W. (2009) Dads make a difference: an exploratory study of paternal support for breastfeeding in Perth, Western Australia. International Breastfeeding Journal, 4: 15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1746-4358-4-15
Dr. Sharin Baldwin PhD, MSc, PG Dip, BSc (Hons), HV, RM, RN, QN, FiHV, IHV Research & PIMH Champion
NIHR Clinical Research Fellow, University of Warwick
Clinical Academic Lead (Nursing and Midwifery), London North West University Healthcare Trust