The role of fathers in supporting breastfeeding is much more important than originally thought, new research has found.
The research, conducted at the University of Tasmania and funded by the Tasmanian Early Years Foundation (TEYF), found fathers were actively involved in, making decisions about the ways babies would be fed and supporting mothers who are breastfeeding babies.
Fathers hold positive views about the value of breastfeeding, however, many fathers in the study also spoke about the times when their partners had experienced breastfeeding difficulties, particularly in the early days and weeks after birth.
The study found there is considerable scope for:
* Further education about breastfeeding to be delivered at a family level.
* Improvements in the care of women during and after birth to reduce breastfeeding problems.
* Greater recognition of the importance of fathers for breastfeeding.
* The promotion and development of support services specifically for fathers during the antenatal and postnatal period.
University researcher Dr Emily Hansen said breastfeeding was generally considered to be a mothers' issue.
"But our research revealed that it is very much a parent issue and fathers are very involved," she said.
Dr Hansen said while many fathers had largely positive experiences of breastfeeding, other men involved in the study described feeling frustrated and helpless when their partners were struggling with breastfeeding.
"They also spoke of how receiving contradictory and confusing advice while in hospital made the early stages of learning to breastfeed more challenging," she said.
"Fathers sometimes described helping mothers make feeding decisions and to solve breastfeeding problems in the context of contradictory information.
"When breastfeeding difficulties did occur, fathers were more important to mothers than they realised.
"Some mothers told us they could not have continued to breastfeed without them, and for the mothers who stopped breastfeeding before they had planned, fathers provided valuable emotional support."
TEYF chief executive officer Mark Green said the role that fathers play in breastfeeding was a neglected area of research.
"The research builds on the work already done at the University and part funded by the foundation, around mothers' experience of breastfeeding," he said.
"While the research reinforces the crucial role fathers play in creating a nurturing environment for babies, it will also provides important information that will assist Tasmanian services to better meet the needs of parents."
Fathers participating in the study had a mean age of 34-years and were primarily from southern Tasmania.
The majority were married and living with the mother of their baby. Just more than half were first time fathers.
The University of Tasmania research was conducted by Dr Hansen, Jennifer Ayton and Leigh Tesch.
Image: (from left to right) Dr Emily Hansen, Mark Green CEO Tasmanian Early Years Foundation, Jennifer Ayton (researcher and PhD candidate in the University's School of social Science), and a father from the study with his little boy.