New survey of fathers' attitudes to breastfeeding

A new study by Swansea University academics has revealed that fathers often feel left out and helpless after the birth of their baby when it comes to breastfeeding and feel like they are excluded from information and education that would help them support their partner.

The report authors, Dr Amy Brown and Dr Ruth Davies, of the University’s College of Human and Health Sciences say they are encouraged that their study shows that fathers feel positive about breastfeeding and want to be able to support their partner.

However the study also revealed that many fathers feel unprepared to do this and end up feeling excluded and helpless at this time.

The study surveyed a sample of 117 men whose partner had given birth in the last 2 years and had initiated breastfeeding at birth. The survey found many men wanted their baby to be breastfed and felt really positive that their partner wanted to do so.

BabyHowever, they felt that although they were encouraged to be part of other antenatal education, when it came to breastfeeding they received little information or were completely excluded. This led to them then feeling helpless if their partner experienced difficulties after the birth.

One participant summed up the experience of many of the men surveyed when he responded: "I would like be included in decisions that affect my son. Just because I can’t feed him doesn’t mean I’m not interested."

The researchers found that men wanted more information about breastfeeding to be directed towards them along with ideas about how they could practically support their partners and learn more about support mechanisms for themselves.

Dr Brown, who is also Programme Director for the MSc in Child Public Health, said:

‘We know that women who feel that their partner is supportive and encouraging of breastfeeding are more likely to continue breastfeeding. Our findings show that men want to do this which is fantastic news but feel unprepared or unsure of how they can help.

They might feel that they are excluded from the feeding relationship and want to know how they can be more involved in their baby’s care or feel upset and unsure of what to do if their partner is having difficulties breastfeeding.

We need to make sure that dads to be also have lots of information about practical and emotional ways to support their partner so that they feel both confident and involved at this time. Increasing breastfeeding rates is a strategic priority and giving more time to fathers could be one way we could support new mums to breastfeed.’

Dr Davies added:

‘Research is showing more and more just how important fathers are to their baby’s development. It’s crucial that they have access to the support they need, both to promote breastfeeding but also for themselves and their relationship with their baby and role as a father.

Our results suggest that fathers want specific and accessible information about the benefits of breastfeeding, strategies to encourage and support their partner alongside support for themselves during this time.

Fathers need health professionals to direct support and information towards them as well as the mother and to recognise their importance in promoting and enabling breastfeeding.’

Read the full study