Fathers are the biggest influence on breastfeeding according to many mothers

Photo: м Ħ ж. Creative Commons.

Successful breastfeeding involves family teamwork – mothers, fathers and any other key member of the family need to work together.

Many studies have shown that mothers often rate the influence of the father on breastfeeding above all others, including professionals and other family members.

Despite this, there is much other research that fathers often get no information about breastfeeding from health professionals. The world’s leading breastfeeding promotion programme, the 10 Steps, makes no reference to fathers and families at all.

Successful breastfeeding involves family teamwork – mothers, fathers and any other key member of the family need to work together.

There are five key steps to successful breastfeeding teamwork – these are part of the Breastfeeding Coparenting Framework.

1. Set breastfeeding goals together

If a family group agrees the goals, then success in achieving them is much more likely.

2. Share responsibility

When we explain to fathers the importance of breastfeeding and their huge influence, we find that most are quite happy to get active to ensure their baby is as well and healthy as possible.

3. Support each other

There are numerous ways that fathers and other family members can support breastfeeding, particularly when the mother is encountering problems, such as when the baby is learning to latch on and the mother is exhausted. Support can be emotional, showing appreciation for the breastfeeding and what it does for the baby. It can involve simply sitting together and enjoying the time. It can be practical, ensuring the environment is quiet and comfortable for breastfeeding. Family members can help share tasks around the house that the mother might feel she is neglecting.

We say “support each other” because there is much mothers can also do to support another key component of family teamwork, namely the involvement of others in caring for the baby.

4. Fathers and others get involved in caring for the baby

A baby needs a lot more than just feeding and, above all, they need to bond with other family members. Burping, putting to bed, bathing, changing diapers and playing are all things that babies need. When a carer meets a baby’s needs in a warm and loving way, the baby will bond with them. Human parenting has always been collaborative in this way, from the first day of a baby’s life. As one father put it to us, “Spending time with your child is a gift.”

5. Communicate well and solve problems together

This is particularly important when there are struggles and/or when the mother is very tired.

We found that the most important of all the ways a father can support breastfeeding is being responsive to the mother’s needs, in particular, knowing when to let her get on with it without help – like for all of us, sometimes we need space to learn to do it our way. And mothers can give space to fathers to bond with the baby too – it works both ways.

Do some fathers get jealous of breastfeeding and try to stop it?

This is often said, but the research does not suggest this is a big problem. Fathers who want to bond with their babies know there are lots of way of caring for a baby other than feeding. In face, the more involved fathers are, the more likely breastfeeding is to take place.