We know that the attitude and actions of fathers influences breastfeeding. We also know that fathers often lack preparation and confidence to support breastfeeding, and that this is one factor leading to earlier cessation of breastfeeding. On this basis, researchers in Toronto have created and tested a measure of fathers’ confidence and looked at how scores on this measure correlate with breastfeeding outcomes. When fathers are more self-confident about supporting breastfeeding 6 weeks after the birth, mothers are more likely to be breastfeeding exclusively at 12 weeks, 6 weeks later.
The researchers used an existing measure of mothers’ self-confidence in breastfeeding and changed it slightly to measure the confidence of fathers to support breastfeeding.
A father’s ability to support breastfeeding is influenced by similar factors that influence the mother’s ability to breastfeed: (1) previous experience of success/failure, (2) seeing others do it, in this case seeing other men assisting their own partners, (3) encouragement from others in the family and from professionals, and (4) positive/negative feelings while providing support to the mother.
The study involved 214 fathers in Toronto.
The self-confidence of fathers (called “self-efficacy”) was measured in the hospital just after the birth and again six weeks after the birth.
Fathers reporting greater self-confidence immediately after the birth were more positive about breastfeeding 6 weeks later. These fathers also scored more highly on the self-confidence measure at the 6-week point and this, in turn, predicted more likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding at 6 weeks later.
More confidence on the part of fathers just after the birth did not predict exclusive breastfeeding later. Perhaps at this early stage, when the mother is surrounded by professional support, the father’s influence is less. This changes, however, when the couple returns home; then the father’s behaviour and attitudes become more influential.
The test showed that in some areas fathers were less confident. Just after the birth, the thing they were least confident about was knowing when the baby had finished breastfeeding. At six weeks, the issue they were least confident about was “helping mom comfortably breastfeed with our family members present”. In this way, the test showed what information and support for fathers might be most relevant.
Dennis C-L. Brennenstuhl S, Abbass-Dick J (2018), Measuring parental breastfeeding self-efficacy: A psychometric evaluation on the Breastfeeding Self-Efficacy Scale-Short Form among fathers, Midwifery 64
Photo: lfer1. Creative Commons.