A study of 43 fathers in Quebec has found that simply informing fathers about breastfeeding – as specified in the UNICEF Baby Friendly standards on breastfeeding – is not enough for fathers to find their place in the family decision-making process. The role of the father in breastfeeding is far more complex and varied than just being a helper. Most fathers in this study saw themselves as a partner in parenting.
When it came to making decisions about breastfeeding, some fathers refused to push their own opinion, even if they disagreed with the mother:
“I can’t tell her what to do with her body. I can’t twist her arm to get her to stop breastfeeding or to start doing it again.”
Only one father in the sample reported being more in favour of breastfeeding than the mother and actively promoting her to do it. Some fathers advocated the mother stopping breastfeeding when things got difficult. A few fathers had no opinion about breastfeeding either way and disengaged from the whole process.
Some fathers supported breastfeeding in practical ways – making sure the mother has what she needs and making sure there is no disturbance. Some provided active advice based on what the midwife had advised.
“My spouse had not understood how to squeeze her breast to feed the baby. I explained to her that that wasn’t how the midwife had showed her. Afterwards, she did it the right way, and it went well.”
Some fathers did the housework.
“I felt powerless when it came to breastfeeding, but for other things I told myself I would do everything I could.”
Some fathers looked after the baby in other ways – comforting, changing diapers, cuddling, putting them to bed, playing and, especially, bathing.
“Playing with the baby and taking care of him, that also keeps up strong connection with the children. There’s a lot a father can do to improve physical contact with his child.”
Some fathers provided emotional support to the mother – encouragement, compliments, affection and reassurance at difficult moments. Some ensured there continued to be couple time when the baby was asleep.
This provides further evidence that the right way to engage fathers is not, as UNICEF currently recommends, just to inform them, but to advocate partnership in parenting, including developing their own relationship with the baby.
deMontigny F, Gervais C, Larivière-Bastien D & St-Arneault K (2018), The role of fathers during breastfeeding, Midwifery 58
Photo: Remy Sharp. Creative Commons.