Breastfeeding programmes in low and middle income countries that engage fathers work better than mother-only programmes

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A review of research on father-inclusive breastfeeding programmes in low and middle income countries concludes that when they engage fathers they are more effective than those only engaging mothers.

The review looked at 8 articles describing 6 programmes in Turkey, China, Vietnam, Iran and Brazil.

Improvements are found in:

  • Early initiation of breastfeeding. In Vietnam engaging fathers increased early initiation from 40% to 81% of mothers.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding (EBF). The review shows increases in rates of EBF of 5 to 11% at 4 months, and 9 to 14% at 6 months, when fathers are engaged.
  • Reduced discontinuation of breastfeeding. Engaging fathers in China resulted in 20% fewer mothers discontinuing breastfeeding at 6 months.

The studies also show greater awareness, knowledge and support on the part of fathers regarding breastfeeding.

The authors look forward, asking two questions.

  1. What about father-to-father peer communication around breastfeeding? It works among mothers but all studies so far involve professionals taking the lead to educate parents.
  2. What about using digital communications to engage fathers? Digital services help mothers with breastfeeding, so could results be achieved with fathers?

The Family Initiative (owner of FamilyIncluded.com) is proposing just such a programme in Uganda, following the observation that interventions led by professionals are expensive and are hardly ever sustained.

 

Tadessw K, Zelenko O, Mulugeta A & Gallegos D (2018), Effectiveness of breastfeeding interventions delivered to fathers in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review, Maternal and Child Nutrition

(Another review of breastfeeding programmes, carried out in Sri Lanka, found similar results:

Mahesh PKB et al (2018), Effectiveness of targeting fathers for breastfeeding promotion: systematic review and meta-analysis, BMC Public Health 18)

Photo: Charles Pieters. Creative Commons.