A study in Hong Kong has found a strong correlation between a father’s support for breastfeeding and a mother’s intention to breastfeed. No such correlation was found with support for breastfeeding on the part of the mother’s own mother or mother-in-law.
Other research shows that the intention to breastfeed is a significant predictor of breastfeeding initiation and duration, so family influences on breastfeeding intentions are important.
The researchers, led by Dr Kris Lok at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Nursing, consider how the Confucian-based culture in Hong Kong may enhance the influence of family members – the importance of maintaining family harmony, and the practice of staying at home in the first month.
The study involved 1,277 pregnant women from four public hospitals in Hong Kong. They were asked about
- their own intention to breastfeed exclusively and for how long
- the preferences of their husband/partner, their mother and their mother-in-law
- their exposure to breastfeeding – breastfed as a child? know someone who has breastfed for more than a month? attended antenatal class?
Overall 78% of the mothers declared their intention to breastfeed exclusively for at least a month.
The researchers found that the father’s preference for breastfeeding is linked to higher likelihood of the mother intending to breastfeed exclusively. Conversely, the father’s preference for infant formula and mixed feeding is linked to a lower likelihood of the mother intending to breastfeed exclusively and a lower intended duration of breastfeeding.
There was no such independent association with the preferences of the mother or the mother-in-law. If, however, the father is supportive and the mother and/or mother-in-law is are also supportive, then the likelihood of intending to breastfeed exclusively increases. Among participants with no family members preferring breastfeeding, the proportion intending to breastfeed exclusively was 72%. Among those with the father preferring breastfeeding but no the mother/mother-in-law, the proportion was 80%. In families where all thee family members were supportive, the proportion was 83%.
The more mothers reported exposure to breastfeeding, the more likely they were to declare an intention to breastfeed exclusively. Among those with no exposure, 69% intended to breastfeed exclusively, rising incrementally up to 86% for those exposed in all three ways measured in the study (breastfed as a child, knowing someone who has breastfed, attending an antenatal class on breastfeeding).
An earlier by the same research team found similar correlations between family support for breastfeeding and the actual duration of breastfeeding:
- partner support for breastfeeding was associated with more likelihood of breastfeeding exclusively longer than one month, whilst a partner with no preference or preference for formula or mixed feeding was associated with greater likelihood of ceasing breastfeeding before one month;
- the more family members supporting breastfeeding, the greater the likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding beyond one month;
- the more exposure to breastfeeding, the more likely the mother is to breastfeed exclusively for longer than one month.
Lok KYW, Bai DL & Tarrant M (2017), Family members’ infant feeding preferences, maternal breastfeeding exposures and exclusive breastfeeding intentions, Midwifery
Bai DD, Fong DYT Lok KYW & Tarrant M (2016), Relationship between the Infant Feeding Preferences of Chinese Mothers’ Immediate Social Network and Early Breastfeeding Cessation, Journal of Human Lactation
Photo: Joe Yang. Creative Commons.