A new approach for engaging with fathers positively in support of breastfeeding has been developed in Canada. It focuses on the idea of “breastfeeding coparenting” – how parents work together to achieve their breastfeeding goals.
The approach is offered as a tool to help practitioners design and develop family inclusive breastfeeding promotion programmes.
While the article refers to fathers throughout, it makes the point at the start that coparenting does not necessarily mean the mother and the father – it involves the mother and whoever is her main support at home.
The “Breastfeeding Coparenting Framework”, developed by Jennifer Abbass-Dick and Cindy-Lee Dennis, is built on the basis of a thorough reading of the research into fathers’ involvement with breastfeeding. Information on how to work as coparents to meet their breastfeeding goals has been made available on their website: www.breastfeedinginfoforparents.ca/couples.
The Framework outlines five components.
- Joint breast-feeding goals setting
Breastfeeding intentions are significantly influenced by a father’s attitude – mothers tend to initiate breastfeeding and continue it for longer if the father shows support. This means that parents should discuss their breastfeeding goals as it is important both parents are on board with these goals if breastfeeding is to have the greatest chance of becoming well established.
- Shared breastfeeding responsibility
Sharing responsibility allows, among other things, mothers to have the necessary time for successful breastfeeding. If the father feels a responsibility for protecting and supporting breastfeeding, he is less likely to advocate bottle-feeding as a way to get involved. The framework gives some examples of what fathers can do to assist in the establishment and continuation of lactation. These include: bringing the baby to the mother when he or she is showing signs of hunger, monitoring the baby’s drinking at the breast, assessing the mother’s comfort with feeds, and assisting in obtaining professional breastfeeding assistance when needed. Additionally, fathers can have active responsibilities for other indispensable babycare activities that do not involve feeding, such as diapering, bathing and comforting.
- Proactive breastfeeding support in both directions
Fathers can be well-informed and equipped to engage with breastfeeding challenges. Many fathers express frustration at being ignorant about breastfeeding and this impedes their ability to act as an effective supportive coparent. Professional breastfeeding programmes should engage with fathers so that fathers have the necessary foundation of knowledge.
Fathers can provide practical support with housework. Research shows that women solely responsible for housework are more likely to end breastfeeding early.
Fathers can provide validation of breastfeeding in the form of encouragement and praise. This has been shown in research to be important for breastfeeding success. Examples of such support include having a positive attitude towards breastfeeding, valuing the importance of breastfeeding and the mother’s commitment to breastfeed, advocating for breastfeeding, defending the mother’s decision to breastfeed when others suggest formula, and supporting breastfeeding in public.
Fathers can provide emotional support to the mother – caring, admiring, listening, reassuring, showing empathy, particularly when things are difficult. It helps if the mother can safely express her frustrations about breastfeeding.
The coparenting approach includes support that the mother can give to the father. This is an unusual recommendation for maternal and newborn health. But the evidence is clear that if fathers feel supported and encouraged they become more involved and more supportive. A mother can keep the father up-to-date with daily developments in breastfeeding. The mother can support the father’s involvement in other critical caring activities. Fathers can be invited to sit with the mother while she is breastfeeding and can burp the baby afterwards.
- Father’s/partner’s parental-child interaction
If the father has the opportunity to bond, increase his sense of participation and build his confidence, he will feel involved with his breastfed infant. Fathers of breastfed babies can build close relationships with their child through a variety of interactions and activities that do not involve feeding.
- Productive communication and problem solving
A foundation of the coparenting approach is the ability to communicate well and solve problems together. Coparents can utilize these skills if faced with challenges when working towards their breastfeeding goals.
Abbass-Dick J & Dennis CL (2017), Breast-feeding Coparenting Framework: A New Framework to Improve Breast-feeding Duration and Exclusivity, Family and Community Health 40.1
Photo: Harsha K R. Creative Commons.