Though efforts to encourage breastfeeding are usually aimed at new mothers, getting dads on board can also help, according to a study published Monday.
The study, which followed 280 sets of new parents, found that mothers were more likely to breastfeed over the long term when their husbands also got some advice on breastfeeding.
Half of the fathers in the study were taught how to manage common problems women have with breastfeeding — including discomfort, fear that the baby is not getting enough milk and the difficulty of continuing to breastfeed after returning to work.
Of their wives, one-quarter were still breastfeeding exclusively or predominately when their babies were 6 months old — compared with 15 percent of women whose husbands attended a class on general infant health and nutrition.
Dr. Alfredo Pisacane and his colleagues at the University of Naples in Italy report the findings in the journal Pediatrics.
Experts generally recommend that infants be fed breast milk exclusively for the first 6 months of life, and that they continue to breastfeed after solid foods are introduced, until they are at least 12 months old.
Although the consensus is that educating fathers as well as mothers could only help promote breastfeeding, no one has studied the question, according to Pisacane.
"Nobody has shown what kind of training fathers should get, (or) if this support is associated with higher rates of breastfeeding," he told Reuters Health.
40-minute education session
In his team's study, half of the fathers had a single, 40-minute session with a midwife who taught them why breast milk is the best nutrition for infants, as well as how to prevent and manage some of the problems that can arise with breastfeeding. The other fathers constituted the "control" group and attended a session on infant health and the benefits of breast milk, but not on managing breastfeeding problems.
All of the mothers in both groups had been planning to breastfeed and received advice and support in doing so.
The additional advice for husbands, however, appeared to pay off, the study found. Their wives were more likely to be breastfeeding when their babies were 6 months old, and were somewhat more likely to breastfeed at 12 months — though only a small percentage of women in each group were still giving breast milk at that point.
About two-thirds of the women in each group said they'd had some difficulty with breastfeeding, but the difference was in the types of problems they had — and in the level of support they got from their husbands.
Overall, 91 percent of women in the intervention group said their husbands had helped them with breastfeeding issues, versus only 34 percent in the control group.
Women in the control group were much more likely to worry that their milk supply was insufficient, and four times as many of them gave up breastfeeding due to lactation problems — 25, versus 6 in the intervention group.
For a woman who is starting breastfeed, support from her husband could be even more effective than help from a health professional, the study authors note. Husbands, according to Pisacane, need to know that their "warm support" and encouragement is an important part of successful breastfeeding.