A scoping review of 18 studies of fathers’ perspectives on breastfeeding has identified a range of ways that fathers can and do support breastfeeding. Examples include:
- Respecting the woman’s decision regarding breastfeeding. Even in the situation where fathers feel more strongly in favour of breastfeeding than the mother (as was found among some fathers in Canada), these fathers reported taking great care to keep in agreement with the mother.
- Practical support such as housework, caring for older children, and ensuring the mother’s comfort to help her breastfeed.
- Emotional support to the mother such as encouragement, affection and anticipating her needs.
- Investing in the mother-father relationship to ensure the couple continues to have “an existence beyond parenthood”.
- Being an advocate of breastfeeding with family, friends and health professionals.
Fathers’ attitudes to breastfeeding are mainly determined by their concern for the baby and for the mother. Those who support breastfeeding say it is because they think it is the best thing for the baby. Those who have doubts do so because of fears about insufficient nutrition for the baby and the physical pain experienced by the mother.
The desire to have a close relationship with the baby and be a fully competent parent can lead some fathers to see breastfeeding as a hindrance, contributing to them feeling left out and incompetent. But most of those motivated to be closely involved with the baby found other ways of engaging – bathing, massaging, cuddling, singing, putting the baby to bed and so on. Fathers do, however, report great appreciation at the point it becomes possible for them to join in feeding the baby.
The studies found that many fathers feel support services are targeted towards mothers and reported feeling marginalised from communications with health professionals.
The reviewers recommend that healthcare professionals actively engage fathers as part of the “breastfeeding team” and that they work to “expand the breastfeeding dyad of mom and babe to a triad including dad”. This includes specifically addressing the role of the fathers and ensuring fathers are well informed and supported.
Some studies included in the review recommended peer-approaches, whereby fathers can engage with each other, so normalising fathers’ experiences and feelings.
The 18 studies took place in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Jordan, Pakistan, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Sihota H, Oliffe J, Kelly MT & McCuaig F (2019), Fathers’ experiences and perspectives of breastfeeding: A scoping review, American Journal of Men’s Health
Photo: Jeff Snodgrass. Creative Commons.