Partner/Father Support During Breastfeeding
by Anne Eglash MD, IBCLC, FABM
Globally, there is abundant evidence that support from partners has a significant impact on breastfeeding initiation, exclusivity, and duration. The importance of partner support is not limited to specific demographics such as wealth, education, or country.
The question is what are the best ways for partners/fathers to provide this support? Evidence-based strategies could be incorporated within programs initiated to support breastfeeding mothers, such as prenatal breastfeeding classes, home visitation, office prenatal visits, WIC visits, etc.
The authors of this week's article performed a systematic review, searching all articles pertaining to husband, partner or father, and breastfeeding support. Seven peer-reviewed clinical trials were included in this systematic review, all from different countries; Taiwan, Canada, Ireland, England, Australia, Brazil, Italy. All studies measured breastfeeding support and breastfeeding duration.
The studies were quite varied in terms of the type of partner support that was measured.
- Doing housework
- Verbal support and encouragement to breastfeed
- Anticipating the mother's needs and getting the job done
- Gifts or financial rewards for breastfeeding
- Assistance with preventing and managing lactation difficulties
- Expressing appreciation of the breastfeeding mother
See the Answer
Support from partners/fathers and families can play a significant role in a mother’s decision to initiate, continue or cease breastfeeding postnatally. This study systematically reviewed published studies to determine the impact of specific types of partner support on breastfeeding initiation, duration and exclusivity. We used the 2015 Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) guidelines for the review. Seven computerized bibliographic databases (Embase, ProQuest Central, Scopus, PsycINFO, Web of Science, MEDLINE/PubMed and CINAHL) were searched. Of a total of 695 articles retrieved from the databases, seven studies met the inclusion criteria and reported on breastfeeding initiation, duration and exclusivity. Four of the seven studies found that partner support in the form of verbal encouragement to new mothers increased breastfeeding duration and exclusivity. Other types of partner supportive actions that led to improved breastfeeding behavior included sensitivity of the partner to the nursing mother’s needs, assistance in preventing and managing breastfeeding difficulties, and helping with household and child care duties. This review showed that specific supportive actions of partners/fathers in the community positively improved breastfeeding practices. To maximise the impact of breastfeeding policies and interventions among new mothers, breastfeeding programmes should consider the involvement of partners/fathers and their specific roles.
The authors point out that direct support to breastfeeding women from the community such as mother/baby support groups, lactation consultants, etc., has limited impact if household support individuals are not on board as well. Although this article pertains to support by the partner and father, the same supportive measures are important when coming from members of the broader household and community, such as grandmothers, close relatives, and friends.
The recommendation from the authors is to shore up partner support when designing and implementing other interventions to help breastfeeding mothers.
One of the most common comments I hear from my breastfeeding families is 'my….. keeps asking me when I am going to wean.' A breastfeeding mother wants acceptance and harmony, and doesn’t want to have to choose between the approval of those making these statements, and her intuitive sense that breastfeeding is integral to the care of her child. Our last US national breastfeeding campaign targeted mothers and focused on the importance of breastfeeding for child health. Perhaps it is time for another national or at least local/state campaigns encouraging worksites, family, and friends to engage in breastfeeding support!