Parents are the pillars of a family, and a strong bond between a father and a mother creates a positive environment for the physical and mental well-being of their baby. Both parents play a crucial role in providing love and affection to their little ones. This bond begins to develop as soon as a woman conceives, and it becomes even more important after the arrival of the baby. The roles and responsibilities of both parents double, especially for the mother, who may be experiencing physical and mental exhaustion.
To shed light on this topic, we recently conducted a Facebook live session with Dr. P Subrahmanya Sastry, MBBS, DCH, DNB (Paediatrics), on the topic “Supporting Breastfeeding Journey: How Fathers can be Involved and Make a Difference”. During the session, we discussed the significance of active support from fathers to breastfeeding mothers. Here is a synopsis of our discussion on the active support from a father to a new breastfeeding mother.
Understanding the Benefits of Breastfeeding. How Does Breastfeeding Contribute to the Overall Health and Development of Babies?
Breast milk is a natural food for full-term newborns, offering a range of benefits that contribute to their overall health and development. Here are some key advantages of breastfeeding :
- Optimal Nutrition: Breast milk provides the ideal balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals necessary for healthy growth and development. The composition of breast milk adjusts naturally to meet the changing needs of growing infants.
- Immune System Support: Breast milk is rich in antibodies, immune cells, and bioactive factors that help protect infants against a wide range of infections, reducing the risk of respiratory, gastrointestinal, and ear infections.
- Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases: Breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of developing chronic conditions later in life, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, asthma, allergies, and certain childhood cancers.
- Enhanced Cognitive Development: Essential fatty acids in breast milk such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), support brain development and cognitive function. potentially leading to improved cognitive outcomes and academic achievement.
- Digestive Health and NEC Risk Reduction: Breast milk is easily digested, promoting a healthy gut microbiome and reducing the risk of gastrointestinal conditions, such as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), in premature infants.
- Bonding and Emotional Connection: Breastfeeding fosters physical closeness, skin-to-skin contact, and emotional bonding between the infant and the mother, promoting emotional well-being and secure attachment.
Breastfeeding offers numerous benefits that support the overall health and well-being of babies. It is a natural and convenient source of nutrition that nourishes infants while providing important immune protection and promoting healthy development.
How Fathers Can Actively Support their Partners: The Role of Fathers in Breastfeeding.
Fathers can empower themselves by educating and gaining knowledge about the benefits and mechanics of breastfeeding, as well as the common challenges that breastfeeding mothers may encounter. This Understanding enables fathers to provide informed support and guidance to the mother. Additionally, fathers can offer valuable emotional support by being empathetic, understanding, and patient. Breastfeeding mothers often require time to rest and establish a breastfeeding routine. By taking on household tasks like cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping, fathers can lighten the mother’s workload, granting her more time for breastfeeding and self-care.
Strategies for Fathers to Build a Bond with Their Babies:
Fathers’ contribution to breastfeeding extends beyond supporting the mother. It provides an opportunity for fathers to bond with their babies during breastfeeding breaks or when the mother is nursing. Here are several strategies that fathers can employ to foster this bond.
- Make time for hugs and cuddles, allowing the baby to rest on the father’s chest while lounging around the house.
- Fathers can be the first person to teach their babies that love doesn’t have to come with food.
- Engage in talking and singing to the baby, as your voice and presence are comforting and soothing.
- Skin-to-skin contact between father and baby enhances touch and promotes a sense of security.
- Participate in bathing the baby and changing diapers, actively engaging in their care.
- Allocate quality time with older siblings so the new baby gets dedicated time with the mother.
Dr. Sastry emphasizes that fathers can play a crucial role in creating a supportive and nurturing environment for breastfeeding at home. Here are some ways in which fathers can contribute :
- Bringing necessary items to the mother during nursing sessions, such as water, snacks, her phone, or a book, to ensure her comfort and convenience.
- Offering supportive words for encouragement when the mother faces breastfeeding difficulties, helping her feel motivated and empowered to continue the breastfeeding journey.
- Providing a comfortable chair and pillow for nursing ensures that the mother can relax and maintain a proper posture during breastfeeding sessions.
- Seeking professional support and breastfeeding help when needed: Fathers play an important role in recognizing challenges and assisting in finding timely professional assistance if the mother or baby encounters any difficulties.
- Practice patience and understanding: Breastfeeding can have its ups and downs, and it takes time for both the mother and baby to establish a rhythm. Fathers can support this by demonstrating patience and understanding during this learning process.
- Offering reassurance and support throughout the breastfeeding journey, remembering that each experience is unique, and embracing the individuality of the mother-baby bond.
Father’s Engagement in Skin-to-Skin Contact and Kangaroo Care: Exploring the Benefits for Babies.
Mothers are not the only ones who can provide kangaroo care. Fathers also can engage in skin-to-skin contact with their babies, offering a different kind of stimulation. This practice is particularly beneficial when mothers are in ICU after the delivery. Kangaroo care is beneficial for both preterm and term babies, as it helps establish a bond with the father, reduces paternal and maternal stress, and provides psychological and physiological stability comparable to kangaroo mother care.
To engage in kangaroo care, fathers can follow these steps:
- Find a semi-reclined or comfortable sitting position.
- Remove your shirt and any upper-body clothing.
- Place a blanket or towel over your shoulder and lap.
- Hold the baby against your chest, aligning its head with your breastbone.
- Optionally, use a light blanket or clothing to cover the baby’s back.
Considerations and Recommendations for Fathers Regarding Mother’s Nutrition and Hydration for Optimal Breastfeeding:
Encourage a Balanced and Nutritious Diet
- Provide Healthy Meal Options: Fathers can play an active role in meal planning and preparation to ensure that the lactating mother has access to healthy and convenient meal options. Assist with grocery shopping, cook nutritious meals, and prepare snacks that are rich in nutrients.
- Promote Hydration: It is important for breastfeeding mothers to stay well-hydrated to support milk production. Encourage the mother to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, such as water, herbal teas, and 100% fruit juices. Keep a water bottle nearby and remind her to drink regularly.
- Be Aware of Specific Nutrient Needs: Certain nutrients are essential for breastfeeding mothers. Encourage the consumption of foods rich in calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D. Dairy products, leafy greens, lean meats, fatty fish, nuts, and fortified foods can provide these essential nutrients.
- Support Healthy Snacks: Breastfeeding may increase the mother’s appetite, and she may need additional calories to meet her energy needs. Help provide healthy snacks, such as fruits, vegetables, yogurt, nuts, and whole-grain crackers, which can satisfy hunger and provide essential nutrients.
- Be Understanding of Cravings and Preferences: Breastfeeding mothers may experience cravings or have specific food preferences. Understand that these cravings are normal and encourage the mother to make healthy choices while enjoying occasional treats in moderation.
- Consider Dietary Restrictions or Allergies: If the mother has dietary restrictions or allergies, the father can support her by understanding and accommodating those needs. Help identify suitable alternatives and explore recipes or meal options that meet her dietary requirements.
Some Common Breastfeeding Concerns or Issues That Fathers Should Be Aware Of, and How They Can Assist in Addressing Them:
Common Concerns that most mothers have are:
- Sore/Cracked Nipples: Fathers can assist in the proper positioning of the baby, especially if a mother has had a C-section. This will help with the latch and reduce soreness.
- Engorgement in the Lactation Period: Many mothers face engorgements in the early postpartum phase. Help the mother with strategies to relieve engorgement, such as warm compresses, gentle breast massage, and expressing milk. Encourage frequent breastfeeding or pumping sessions to help regulate milk supply. Provide emotional support during this uncomfortable phase and assist with other household tasks to reduce her workload.
- Support in Public: Support the mother’s decision to breastfeed in public if she chooses to do so.
- Recognition of the Pattern: Recognize that breastfeeding and sleep are interconnected. Offer to assist with nighttime diaper changes, burping the baby, or soothing techniques after breastfeeding sessions to allow the mother to get some rest. Create a conducive sleep environment for both the mother and baby.
How Can Fathers Become Advocates for Breastfeeding, Both within their Families and in their Communities:
- Educate Themselves: Fathers should educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of supporting breastfeeding mothers. Read books, articles, and reputable resources on breastfeeding to gain a deeper understanding of its significance.
- Lead by Example: Show your support for breastfeeding within your family by openly expressing your belief in its benefits and your commitment to supporting the mother’s breastfeeding journey. Demonstrate your understanding and appreciation for the time and effort it takes to breastfeed.
- Communicate with Family Members: Engage in open and respectful conversations with family members, including grandparents, siblings, and extended family, about the importance of breastfeeding. Share the benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the baby and address any misconceptions or concerns they may have.
- Participate in Support Groups and Events: Attend breastfeeding support groups or events with the mother to show your support and engage in conversations with other fathers and families. Share your experiences, offer encouragement, and exchange ideas and strategies for supporting breastfeeding mothers.
- Advocate for Breastfeeding-Friendly Environments: Advocate for breastfeeding-friendly policies and environments in your community. Encourage local businesses, public spaces, and healthcare facilities to provide comfortable and private areas for breastfeeding mothers. Raise awareness about the importance of creating supportive environments for breastfeeding in workplaces and public spaces.
Father’s Support to Breast-feeding Mothers during the Transition Back to Work?
The most important role of a father is to support breastfeeding mothers emotionally and practically during the transition back to work. Here is some advice for fathers:
- Understand that the transition back to work and balancing breastfeeding may have its challenges and adjustments. Be flexible and embrace any changes that may arise. Offer your support and reassurance as the mother navigates this new phase.
- Familiarize yourself with the breast pump and its components. Learn how to assemble, clean, and operate the pump, so you can assist the mother if needed.
- Support the mother in storing and organizing pumped breast milk. Label and date the milk containers, assist with proper storage in the refrigerator or freezer, and ensure the milk is used in the appropriate order. This helps reduce any additional stress for the mother.
Dr. Sastry suggests that fathers should assume the roles of protector, provider, and disciplinarian role in the family. However, in practice, mothers often fulfill these three roles. Instead, fathers can be leaders, teachers, helpers, encouragers, and friends in addition to their supportive role in breastfeeding.
There are a few specific resources and support groups that can assist fathers or breastfeeding mothers in making their new parenthood journey easier and more knowledgeable:
- Lactation Consultants: Lactation consultants are trained professionals who specialize in providing support and guidance for breastfeeding. They can address specific breastfeeding concerns, offer practical tips, and help with any challenges that arise. They can also assist with issues such as latch problems, low milk supply, or nipple pain. To find a lactation consultant near you, you can visit the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA) website or consult with your healthcare provider.
- Online Communities and Forums: There are numerous online communities and forums where breastfeeding mothers and fathers can connect, share experiences, ask questions, and offer support. NeoLacta LifeSciences runs a Pan India breastfeeding helpline, which can give direct access to a certified Lactation Consultant via Phone.
- Local Support Groups: Many communities have local support groups specifically designed for breastfeeding mothers and families. These groups provide a supportive environment to share experiences, seek advice, and build connections with other breastfeeding parents. Inquire with your healthcare provider, lactation consultants, or local community centers to find out about any local breastfeeding support groups near you.
- Healthcare Providers: Engaging with healthcare providers, such as pediatricians, obstetricians, and nurses, can provide valuable support and resources for breastfeeding. They can offer guidance, address concerns, and refer you to lactation consultants or support groups in your area.
- Books and Resources: There are several books available that offer comprehensive information on breastfeeding and provide practical tips and guidance for both mothers and fathers. “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” by La Leche League International and “Breastfeeding Made Simple” by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett are highly recommended resources.
Remember, each breastfeeding journey is unique, and it’s important to find the resources and support systems that resonate with you and meet your specific needs. The mentioned resources can serve as a starting point in finding the support and information you and your partner may require during the breastfeeding journey.
1)Rempel LA, Rempel JK. The breastfeeding team: the role of involved fathers in the breastfeeding family. J Hum Lact. 2011 May;27(2):115-21. doi 10.1177/0890334410390045. Epub 2010 Dec 20. PMID: 21173422.
2)The role of fathers during breastfeeding panel Francine deMontigny Ph.D. (Director) a 1, Christine Gervais Ph.D. (Associate Professor, Researcher) b, Danaë Larivière-Bastien MA (Research Professional) b, Kate St-Arneault MA (Research Coordinator) b
3)Association between breastfeeding and intelligence, educational attainment, and income at 30 years of age: a prospective birth cohort study from Brazil Cesar G Victora, Prof, Ph.D.,a Bernardo Lessa Horta, Dr, Ph.D.,a,*Christian Loret de Mola, Ph.D.,a Luciana Quevedo, Ph.D.,b Ricardo Tavares Pinheiro, Ph.D.,b Denise P Gigante, Ph.D.,a Helen Gonçalves, Ph.D.,a and Fernando C Barros, PhD