Bringing a baby into this world is a joyous period for parents. They “ooh” and “ahh” over the marvel they have created.
Ideally, parenting responsibilities should be equally shared, but when it comes to breastfeeding, the job lies solely on mothers, although there are now wearable devices in the market that allow fathers to take on nursing duties.
A father’s attitude and action can positively or negatively affect the mother’s intentions to breastfeed and breastfeed exclusively, as well as breastfeeding duration.
Time and again, research is consistently proving that breast milk is the best source of nutrition a newborn can get.
In June 2019, a survey was conducted among 3,500 Pregnancy+ App users worldwide by Philips Avent, a division of health technology company Royal Philips.
The findings show that almost all mums surveyed would like their partners to be involved in every aspect of looking after their newborn baby: 65% of mums would like their partners to help prepare a bottle feed, while 63% want support feeding the baby at night. (See graphic)
Fortunately, most dads (81%) want to help, but there are some areas where they could be doing more to support their wife.
Changing paternal roles
While most partners (82%) are involved in comforting and checking up on the baby, less than half (46%) clean the breast pumps and the bottles for the next feeding, only 54% feed the baby at night and only 41% spend time researching on how to feed the baby.
Clearly, there are some aspects of caring for a newborn that are still falling to mum and there is a need for greater education for dad.
“The role of the father has changed in the past few decades. Men are now much more willing to be hands-on in the child-raising process.
“Not only are men more often present at births, but they are also taking on a lot of the childcare duties too.
“This includes supporting the breastfeeding process, which is great for father-infant bonding and has long-lasting benefits that the baby will carry into later life,” says Professor Dr Michael Abou-Dakn, chief physician of gynaecology at the St Joseph Hospital in Berlin, Germany, in an email interview.
It is crucial for fathers to be involved from the very beginning.
He says, “It all starts from the skin-to-skin contact, before getting to know the baby and having more contact with the baby through feeding or play time.
“They should not stop once breastfeeding has ended, but continue playing a very close and involved role in the child’s later years.
“Studies have shown that children who have had a good relationship with their father would eventually become better parents themselves and develop good relationships with their own children.”
While some doctors still hold onto the notion that fathers are not suitable for skin-to-skin contact with their newborns, Prof Abou-Dakn dismisses them.
“Results from various studies have already proven that skin-to-skin contact with fathers is beneficial for the baby, especially preterm babies, in terms of their body temperature, heart rate and stress hormones, and that it provides a sense of safety to the baby.
“Hence, I would recommend discussing with the doctor and showing them the results from these studies.
“One concern they might have concerning pre-term babies, is bacteria that the baby can be exposed to from their parents when they are staying in the neonatal intensive care unit.
“However, if parents are informed and they take the necessary precautions such as cleaning their hands, then there will not be any problem.”
No support, less breastfeeding
According to World Health Organization (WHO), global breastfeeding initiation rates at birth remain high at around 60%-95%, but the figures are gradually declining over time, resulting in lower breastfeeding rates at six months after birth.
The support network just isn’t adequate as women these days have multiple roles to juggle.
Women who receive support from a partner are more likely to initiate and continue breastfeeding for longer, while having the partner’s presence during breastfeeding is shown to improve infant bonding during the post-delivery period.
“Most fathers are open to breastfeeding and do want to be involved in the breastfeeding process.
“What they can do is research and obtain information on breastfeeding via online websites or through apps.
“In addition, more hospitals should open their delivery wards to fathers as well, to allow both parents and baby to stay together.
“This is the best time to help fathers better understand how they can support their breastfeeding partner,” says Prof Abou-Dakn, who specialises in the area of father-infant bonding.
Apart from dealing with the needs of new mothers and newborn infants, postnatal care deli-vered by nurses and midwives should benefit new fathers as well.
Here are some common complaints of fathers:
• Being addressed as “just the husband” by nurses
• Not being given enough information by nurses
• Feeling left out during breastfeeding time
Providing more information
The survey findings further revealed that 60% of fathers were involved in purchasing breastfeeding supplies when needed.
However, when breastfeeding mothers sent clueless fathers to the store to pick up these supplies, they did not know what to do!
“We have received a lot of feedback from these fathers and we are trying to make it easier for them to navigate the information at all touch points, be it at the point of care or point of purchase, and at the point of understanding what exactly does his breastfeeding partner and baby need.
“It can be as simple as providing labels on the packaging or providing leaflets and pamphlets near products to help them be more informed and aware.
“The goal is to help them buy the right products for their baby and the right solutions to help them through their breastfeeding journey,” says Philips senior medical advisor Dr Pearl Vyas.
There are many ways for fathers to help breastfeeding mothers, such as supporting her when she breastfeeds, be it mentally or physically; helping with household chores; cooking; ensuring their partner is comfortable; learning how to best position the baby on the breast; and feeding the baby breast milk through the bottle to provide their breastfeeding partner adequate amount of rest, points out Prof Abou-Dakn.
On whether there is a difference between Asian and Western dads in their attitudes towards breastfeeding, he says every parent and baby behaves differently all over the world.
“Based on market research, these are often due to cultural differences.
“However, no other time in history have fathers been more passionate in taking care of their children and this is something we see happening everywhere in the world,” he says.
Soon, there will be more product innovations to support breastfeeding mothers.
According to Dr Vyas, Philips Avent is working on improving bottle flow rates and the shape of its nipples.
“We are studying the movement inside a baby’s mouth to ensure that his tongue can move in a natural wave-like motion without hindrance; softness of the material so that it does not cause any oral anomalies; and how easy it is for babies to get the milk out.
“Babies engage over forty muscles to extract milk and we want them to have a similar experience when feeding from bottles.
“We will never be able to replace the breast, but we are looking at ways on how the baby can extract milk from the bottle in a more effective and natural way,” she says.