2 August 2012
How Fathers Can Support Breastfeeding
Research has shown that fathers are a significant factor in breastfeeding success. Here Tanya, who is breastfeeding her toddler Billy with the full support of husband Andy, shares how dads can best support their partner to establish and continue breastfeeding.
Tanya breastfeeding son Billy with support from husband Andy. Photography by Viva Photography, Fremantle WA.
An important message to all new (and not so new) fathers out there – you are extremely important! Of course your partner is more qualified to tell you this than I am. I am simply here to talk about one of the ways that you can apply your influence as a father to help your partner, your environment, your wallet and help to give your children the best possible start in life.
I am talking about breastfeeding. True, you don’t have the necessary equipment to breastfeed a baby yourself, but there are many ways in which you can help.
The physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding to both mum and bub are well documented so I won’t go into them here. The environmental benefits of breastfeeding as opposed to using artificial baby milks are also significant; breastfeeding requires no packaging, no fossil fuels for transport, no plastic bottles, no chemicals or power for sterilising and no water to make up feeds. It is also cheap, portable and in most cases easy once both mother and baby get the hang of things.
This last point holds the key to your involvement. Breastfeeding isn’t always easy at first. Numerous Australian and international studies have shown that partner support is a significant factor in breastfeeding initiation rates (Dennis 2002; Scott et at 2001) and duration (Rampel & Rampel 2004).
So how can you help?
Learn about breastfeeding - how it works and why it is important. Your conviction in the importance of breastfeeding, along with her own, will encourage your partner to start breastfeeding and persist through any tough patches.
Get involved in caring your baby – Some fathers worry that they won’t be able to bond with their baby if they can’t help feed them. But dads bond in so many other ways for example by bathing, changing nappies, cuddling or babywearing. And dads play very differently to mums too, so just by spending time playing with your bub you are giving them a special gift that no-one else can! Maybe you can feed your bub some expressed breastmilk occasionally, but if not you can look forward all the more to introducing solids at around six months.
Lighten her load - many new mums feel they don’t have time to do anything but sit and feed their baby, so it can be stressful if other jobs keep piling up. Remember that feeding is her most important job at the moment, so you can help by doing more than usual around the house, with the baby or with older children.
Help her relax – this will help to make her milk let down more quickly, making feeding easier for both mother and baby. Maybe you can help out more around the house, bring her a glass of water, a shoulder massage or just sit and talk to her if this is what she needs most.
Get help - if your partner has concerns or problems with breastfeeding at any time, encourage her to seek help. This is not an admission of weakness. She or you could speak to another experienced breastfeeding mother, a medical professional or an Australian Breastfeeding Association Breastfeeding Counsellor.
On a personal note, I am lucky enough to have an extremely supportive husband who has always been 100% supportive of our breastfeeding journey. Our son Billy was exclusively breastfed for six months, but there were no problems with bonding between father and son. They both love their ‘Daddy play’ time, including playing cricket in the lounge room since before Billy was one. My husband is as strong an advocate of breastfeeding as I am, and I am confident of his ongoing support to breastfeed Billy (currently 18 months) until he and I are ready to wean.
About the Author
Tanya Fyfe is an eco mum and environmental engineer and lives in the WA Goldfields with her husband Andy and son Billy. The family's aim is to live sustainably and for Billy to grow up understanding where food comes from and how it is produced. They generate solar electricity and have an organic vegetable garden and modest orchard irrigated entirely with grey water.
Dennis CL 2002, Breastfeeding initiation and duration: a 1990-2000 literature review, J Obstet Gynecol Neonata Nurs 31(1): 12-32.
Rampel LA, Rampel JK 2004, Partner influence on health behaviour decision-making: Increasing breastfeeding duration, J Soc Pers Relationships 21(1):92-111.
Scott JA, Landers MC, Hughes RM, Binns CW 2001, Factors associated with breastfeeding at discharge and duration of breastfeeding, J Pediatr Child Health 37(3): 254-261.