Even in cultures where most fathers have little interest in or knowledge about breastfeeding, they and the maternal mothers have a great deal of power over how mothers feed their babies. Studies in Taiwan, Australia, Canada, England, Scotland, Israel, Spain, Brazil, Sweden and PA, NY, MD, MO, GA, in the USA suggest that a father’s approval of breastfeeding is associated with greater breastfeeding success. In one study in OH, USA, strong approval of breastfeeding by the father was associated with 98% breastfeeding incidence, compared to only 26.9 when the father was indifferent to feeding choice.
In many of these studies, others’ opinions were not found to have any influence. In one study, pregnant women were asked whose opinion mattered the most regarding feeding their infants and 79% said “baby’s father” compared to 21% “maternal mother.”
One review suggested that fathers influence the following four aspects: the breastfeeding decision, assistance at first feeding, duration of breastfeeding, and risk factors for bottle feeding.
In one study in TX, USA, compared with fathers whose partner planned to bottle feed, fathers whose partners planned to breast feed were less likely to think that breastfeeding is bad for breasts (52% vs 22%), makes breasts ugly (44% vs 23), and interferes with sex (72% vs 24%).
Most studies find that although fathers of breast-fed babies know more about breastfeeding and have more positive attitudes toward it than other fathers, their level of knowledge is still low. Presumably, fathers’ knowledge and attitudes could be improved and they could play a more positive role, though few documented efforts have been made so far to do so.
Does breastfeeding make fathers feel left out? In Hungary mothers who believed this were less likely to breastfeed. Jordan and Wall found that fathers’ concerns about breastfeeding included the lack of opportunity to develop a relationship with their child, feeling inadequate, and being separated from their mate by the baby. Gamble and Morse identified the process that enabled fathers to accept the disparity in the types of relationships that their children had with each of their parents as a result of breastfeeding, and called it “postponing.” It includes becoming aware of the disparity, simultaneously developing accepting strategies and acknowledging reinforcing factors, and, finally, developing compensating behaviors to increase the fathers’ interactions with their infants and promote closer relationships.
About the Author:
For over 20 years Ted has been involved at national and international levels in program and policy issues related to breastfeeding and other nutrition issues. His first publications established the first scientific evidence that commercial marketing of baby foods had a negative influence on how women feed their babies. Visit him at: www.geocities.com/HotSprings/Spa/3156/Ted.htm