Engaging and supporting fathers to promote breastfeeding

Engaging and supporting fathers to promote breastfeeding

– Extract from the Scandinavian Journal of Midwives.

“As a global public health recommendation, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) state that infants should be ‘exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life in order to achieve optimal growth, development and health’ (1). In UK the Department of Health (DH) advises that breast milk provides all the nutrients that a baby needs for healthy growth and development in the first months of life, and has an important contribution to make towards reducing infant mortality and health inequalities (2, 3).

… In this paper we argue that fathers have a crucial but currently overlooked role in meeting this important agenda. Indeed, CHPP not only explicitly acknowledges the important contribution that fathers can make to their children’s development, health, and wellbeing but also that maternity services and child health services are traditionally used to working mainly with mothers:

  • The contribution that fathers make to their children’s development, health and wellbeing is important, but services do not do enough to recognise or support them… Maternity and child health services are used to working mainly with mothers, and this has an impact on their ability to engage with fathers. Fathers should be routinely invited to participate in child health reviews, and should have their needs assessed. (10)”


“Although this study was undertaken in the UK, the findings resonate with the international literature on the need for health professionals (and other public services) to involve and engage with men and fathers more meaningfully. This study has shown that fathers are interested in breastfeeding and want to be involved more broadly in preparation for, and supporting of, breastfeeding.
However, it is likely that current discourses about men and fathers as well as more practical worries and concerns may prevent some health visitors and other health professionals from involving them in such meaningful ways, and thereby potentially contributing to targets on the initiation and continuance of breastfeeding.
Whilst our study is limited in its scope and more research is needed, our data indicates that fathers are potentially a missing part of the jigsaw in terms of breastfeeding support. Consequently, we hope that this article will serve as an invitation to breastfeeding advocates to include fathers in local programs that promote breastfeeding and to test innovative educational programs that are designed to increase the incidence and duration of breastfeeding (55).”

Keywords: fathers, breastfeeding, health promotion, social marketing, children’s centres, health visitors.

Nigel Sherriff PhD (Senior Research Fellow) and Valerie Hall PhD (Professor of Midwifery).
International Health Development Research Centre (IHDRC), University of Brighton, Falmer, Brighton, UK and Centre for Nursing and Midwifery Research, University of Brighton, Falmer, Brighton, UK

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