Partners and family: support the breastfeeders for optimal results
Breastfeeding is most successful when done as a family. Support and education of significant others and family has shown to increase breastfeeding success. In a 2013 Australian study, minimal paternal education led to a significant increase in breastfeeding rates.1
As a lactation consultant, I love seeing families come together to consultations. Even better, I love it when the dad is standing over my shoulder to see what I’m doing, looking at, or asking questions. When asked “can I bring my partner?”, I say “you should absolutely bring your partner and I would prefer that they join us.”
Although a man’s nipples are essentially useless, there are plenty of ways that dads can contribute. I commonly see that dads want to contribute by feeding the baby from a bottle but that’s not always the best practice when breastfeeding is not yet established. It can lead to bottle preference and less frequent emptying of the breast which could potentially cause to low milk supply. So how can dads help?
- Skin-to-skin. I LOVE skin-to-skin time. It’s so good and relaxing for the baby and it’s such a nice way to connect. Not to mention you have only a few precious weeks/months to do so.
- Help mom get comfortable. Arrange pillows, bring a foot stool, water, or a snack. Once the baby latches, it could be tough to move in the beginning and doing small things like that could be super helpful for mom.
- Tummy time is best dad time. Tummy time is an important skill for babies to build muscles as they grow. It’s a wonderful time to connect. Lay on the floor with the baby, talk to them, and just play.
- Go for walks. Good for baby, good for dad, good for mom. Win-win for everyone!
- Learn to soothe the baby in your own special way. Become the superhero baby whisperer of your house.
There’s a lot of research on impact of fatherly and familial support on breastfeeding, here’s a few:
- Study “identified nonmodifiable and modifiable factors that influenced fathers’ involvement in the breastfeeding of their infants.” Many of the findings were very logical – breastfeeding was positively affected by: positive attitude of father, level of involvement, positive marital relationship, socioeconomic and paternal leave, and attendance at antenatal classes. https://www.jognn.org/article/S0884-2175(18)30351-4/abstract
- This study suggests “that the most effective breastfeeding support is delivered using a sensitive, coordinated teamwork approach that is responsive to the mother's needs.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27460557
- Another study concluded that fathers valued breastfeeding, saw it as healthy and natural for babies. However, many of the fathers saw their partners struggle with breastfeeding and viewed breastfeeding as a potentially harmful practice for mothers. Their accounts demonstrated that breastfeeding problems affect families, not just mothers and infants. The study concluded that it is critical for fathers to learn more about breastfeeding prior to birth. https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12884-018-1827-9