Dads not sure how to help nursing mums

Poll finds over 75% of fathers are involved in breastfeeding decision.

A poll of fathers whose partner was breastfeeding has found that while most were supportive, many found themselves unsure of how best to help and some felt there were disadvantages ranging from pressure on the mother to a perceived lack of opportunity to bond with the child.

The poll of almost 500 fathers also found the majority of men had no issue with women breastfeeding in public, although more respondents admitted they would feel more uncomfortable if it was there partner who was doing so.

Over three-quarters of fathers were involved in the decision to breastfeed while 7% said they would have preferred that their partner didn’t breastfeed.

All fathers were asked about their predominant feeling to seeing a woman who was not their partner breastfeeding in public. The majority of fathers (56.6%) reported that they would feel indifferent and almost a third (32.1%) reported that they would feel respect for a woman unrelated to them breastfeeding in public.

Almost one in 10 (9.4%) reported feeling uncomfortable and a small number (1.9%) reported feeling surprise at seeing a woman breastfeed in public. When fathers were asked about their reaction should their own partner ever breastfeed in public, the majority (65.7%) reported they would be completely comfortable with it.

Less than a third (30.9%) reported that they would be fairly comfortable with a few concerns, while just 3.4% of fathers stated they would be completely uncomfortable.

According to the report: “It is of note that while one in ten fathers reported feeling uncomfortable on seeing an unrelated woman breastfeeding in public, this increased to three in 10 if the woman in question was their partner.

“The main reasons for feeling discomfort included possible infringements upon their partner’s modesty and causing offence to those in the surrounding environ. Importantly, the concerns of fathers in this study regarding breastfeeding in public are not dissimilar to the concerns voiced by mothers in other studies.”

A fifth of fathers reported discussing breastfeeding without actively influencing their partner, leaving the final decision with her.

The most common advantages to breastfeeding listed by fathers included the health benefits for their infant, having to do no night feeds, the convenience of breastfeeding compared to formula feeding, and the strength of the mother- infant bond.

When it came to the perceived disadvantages to having a breastfeeding partner, 12.7% of fathers reported no disadvantages, while 77.7% of respondents with a breastfeeding partner listed at least one disadvantage. The most common disadvantage (58.6%) was being unable to assist with feeding and coping with the resultant effects that this can have on their partner’s emotional state.

One respondent said: “Wife is tired and grumpy from never getting 8 hours of straight sleep.” Another said: “It was so hard on her. It wore her down. I hated seeing her so stressed, strapped to that breast pump for weeks.”

Some cited less opportunities to bond with the infant and others expressed anxiety over the success of breastfeeding.

The survey was conducted by research dietician Annemarie Bennett for a thesis submitted to Dublin Institute of Technology. The data has also been published in the Midwifery journal.

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