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Fathers and breastfeeding: Attitudes, involvement and support

02 July 2017
25 min read
Volume 25 · Issue 7

Abstract

Background

Fathers are recognised as a major source of social support for breastfeeding mothers. Mothers repeatedly identify their infant's father as an important part of the decision to breastfeed, yet limited research has focused on fathers and breastfeeding.

Aims

To review existing literature on the attitudes of fathers towards breastfeeding and their involvement in supporting mothers.

Methods

Studies were initially grouped according to research design, then each appraised against quality standards for respective designs. The selected studies were then re-grouped under themes and a narrative synthesising approach to findings was undertaken to develop the discussion. Data sources included a library and electronic search, conducted between January 2014 and June 2015, of the literature published between 1992 and 2015.

Findings

Fathers' positive attitude, involvement and support greatly influenced breastfeeding decision and commitment among mothers and was associated with increased breastfeeding rates and duration. The exclusion of fathers from breastfeeding support and preparation may result in decreased quality of life and self-efficacy among fathers. There is, however, a lack of clear evidence regarding what exactly constitutes the nature of fathers' support.

Conclusions

Taken collectively, the review findings demonstrate that focusing on fathers as a major part of the breastfeeding family and engaging them in the preparation and support process would certainly impact positively on breastfeeding rates.

A plethora of literature has examined the factors behind low breastfeeding rates and has indicated that a mother's decision to breastfeed is associated with social, cultural, personal and environmental factors, as well as mothers' and fathers' attitudes toward breastfeeding (Earle, 2002; Kong and Lee, 2004). Although findings from studies conducted with mothers indicate that they make their initial infant-feeding decision before conception (Giugliani et al, 1994b), mothers have identified the infant's father to be a major influence on their decision to breastfeed (Giugliani et al, 1994) as well as a major source of support during the breastfeeding period (Scott and Binns, 1999; Garfield and Isacco, 2006). Changes in the role of fathers have allowed them to make a greater contribution to a child's social and educational development (Sarkadi et al, 2008): compared to earlier generations, modern fathers are more involved in infant upbringing and responsibilities (Cassidy, 1999; Lamb, 2010). Gage and Kirk (2002) argue that this level of involvement has a long-term impact on enhancing the health of mothers, infants, and children. Research evidence shows that mothers who received support from their partners were also more likely to initiate and sustain breastfeeding for longer periods, compared with mothers who did not receive support from their partners (Hunter and Cattelona, 2014). Although the impact of fathers on breastfeeding behaviours has been highlighted in the literature (Bar-Yam and Darby, 1997), since then, research with fathers and breastfeeding has been somewhat limited (Sherriff and Hall, 2011). The focus of this paper is to review and present findings of existing literature on fathers and breastfeeding, using a narrative style and a systematic approach.

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