As Latinos, family is central to our lives and research has shown it is also central to our health. This is also true for breastfeeding – men must be included in the larger conversation. Doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals must authentically engage fathers in planning for breastfeeding as one part of their role as caregivers. All of us must come to see fathers as a key part of a support system that enables more women, babies, and communities to benefit from breastfeeding.
We know that breastfeeding is best for babies and offers important health benefits to mothers. I believe that our community benefits when all women and babies have the opportunity to benefit from breastfeeding; this is especially important for Latino communities that face significant health disparities. For example, Latino children who receive less then 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding are 40% more likely to suffer from ear infection, 40% more likely to have diarrhea that requires hospitalization and 40% more likely to die from SIDs then babies who were breastfed for six months or more. The challenges that many of us face as Latinas are barriers in our communities, our health care experiences, our workplaces, and even our own families.
Fathers, in particular, can be one of the most powerful allies in helping aspiring breastfeeding mothers succeed. It’s not just common sense. Research highlights the important role that fathers have in breastfeeding. Elsa R. J. Giugliani and colleagues concluded, “A favorable attitude of partners towards breastfeeding was the most important factor associated with breastfeeding.”[i] For me, my children’s father was key in my success breastfeeding our girls on those very late nights and early mornings when I was tired and weary. His encouraging words and support were critical when I struggled breastfeeding our preterm infant. I credit him for giving me the support I needed to meet my breastfeeding goals.
As we think about how our families are organized and the role of fathers as equal caregivers, we must acknowledge the challenges many fathers face in supporting breastfeeding. Fathers need to know how they can be engaged with their babies and the critical importance of their engagement. For example, a dad can help soothe his baby when the baby gets fussy. He can take charge of bath time, diapering, or dressing the baby. Fathers can also be involved in handling breast milk and feeding breast milk from a bottle when mom is away or needs a break.
The health of our children is a community effort and we must play our part. Fathers have an important role in championing their children’s health and future success, so it is critical that we include, welcome, encourage as well as expect and claim their support in helping mother’s reach their breastfeeding goal.
[i] Giugliani, E. R. J., Caiaffa, W. T., Vogelhut, J., Witter, F. R., & Perman, J. A. (1994, September). Effect of breastfeeding support from different sources on mothers’ decisions to breastfeed. Journal of Human Lactation, 10(3), 157–161.
Knowing the Neighborhood: Inner City San Antonio Church Models Christian Community Development