When new dads were involved in a breastfeeding support programme at the hospital, new moms were more likely to still be breastfeeding three months later, a recent study showed.
"This is consistent with what is in the literature suggesting fathers play an important role in breastfeeding," said lead author Jennifer Abbass-Dick of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Canada.
Read: Breast-feeding reduces rheumatoid arthritis risk
Health authorities recommend that babies receive only breast milk for the first six months of life, but at least 25 percent of babies in the U.S. are never breastfed at all, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mothers responsible for learning to breastfeed
"Mothers are sent home early after birth and while recovering from labour and birth they are responsible for learning to breastfeed," Abbass-Dick told Reuters Health by email.
It can be a big help for the mother to have the father "assist with this learning, through understanding how breastfeeding works, how to position the infant at the breast so that it is comfortable for the mother, how to tell the baby is drinking at the breast and monitoring that the baby is getting enough to eat," she said.
For the study, the researchers divided 214 new mothers and their partners into two groups. One group received standard in-hospital breastfeeding support and any other aid they sought for themselves in the community.
In the co-parenting group, both members of the couple also met in the hospital with a breastfeeding specialist for 15 minutes and took home booklets, a video, and a web address with information on breastfeeding techniques and community resources as well as how fathers can assist.
Researchers also sent follow-up emails to moms and dads in the co-parenting group when the baby was one and three weeks old, and they called the home when the baby was two weeks old to remind parents of the resources and answer any questions.
95 percent of mothers still breastfeeding after three months
More than 95 percent of mothers in the co-parenting group were still breastfeeding three months into the study, compared to 88 percent of mothers in the comparison group, according to results in Paediatrics.
Fathers in the co-parenting group reported more confidence in their ability to help with breastfeeding than dads in the comparison group, shortly after birth and at six weeks of age.
Also in the first six weeks, more mothers in the co-parenting group said their partners assisted with breastfeeding and that they were satisfied with the assistance.
There was no difference in exclusive breastfeeding between the groups.
Read: Mothers on epilepsy drugs can safely breastfeed
"While most of the couples in the study had intent to exclusively breast feed, the involvement of the dad made it more likely that they would reach their breastfeeding goals," said Rebecca L. Mannel, director of lactation services at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Centre in Oklahoma City.
"The mothers felt more supported by their partners, which helps them persevere when they may be tired or frustrated or insecure," Mannel told Reuters Health by email. She was not part of the new study.
"As it's the mother who does the breastfeeding, many interventions are mainly focused on her, leaving dad out of a huge element in the health of their baby," she said.
Breastfeeding provides immune protection
Breastfeeding, which delivers essential nutrients and provides immune protection to the infant, is important for the health of mom and baby, Abbass-Dick said.
"Life is complicated for new moms," said Karen A. Bonuck, professor in the Department of Family and Social Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
"By shooting for exclusive breastfeeding, we are more likely to at least get to predominant breastfeeding."
Aside from physically supporting breastfeeding, partners can help with childcare and housework, listen to mom's concerns, and sit with her while she is breastfeeding, Abbass-Dick said.
Read: Breastfeeding vs. formula – a complex decision
"Working to establish breastfeeding is a responsibility that fathers can share with mothers," she said.
"Mothers need time and energy to learn to breastfeed and fathers play a large role in ensuring mothers get the help and support they need so they can allocate the time to breastfeeding."
Why breastfeeding is best
More evidence breast-feeding lowers child's risk of allergies, infection
Breastfeeding helps heavy moms drop weight
Image: Dad assisting breastfeeding mom from Shutterstock.