Fathers’ role in supporting breastfeeding, safe infant sleep

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According to a recent survey of new fathers conducted by the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS for Dads), fathers can make a significant difference in whether an infant is nursed and safely placed to sleep.

This new technique is based on the annual monitoring method utilised by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health agencies to poll new moms for more than 35 years. This is the first study to use PRAMS for Dads to describe father-reported rates of new-born nursing and sleep practises in a state-representative sample. The study's findings have been published in the journal Paediatrics.

95 per cent of fathers who wanted their infant's mother to breastfeed reported breastfeeding initiation, and 78 per cent reported nursing at eight weeks. This is much higher than the rates reported by dads who had no opinion or did not want their infant's mother to nurse – 69 per cent of these fathers acknowledged breastfeeding initiation and 33 per cent reported nursing at eight weeks.

Researchers also found that 99 per cent of fathers reported placing their infant to sleep, but only 16 per cent implemented all three recommended infant sleep practices (using the back sleep position, an approved sleep surface, and avoiding soft bedding). Almost a third of fathers surveyed were missing at least one key component of safe sleep education.

Black fathers were less likely to use the back sleep position and more likely to use soft bedding than White fathers. Nationally, the rate of sudden unexpected infant death of Black infants is more than twice that of White infants, and unsafe sleep practices may contribute to this disparity.

"Our findings underscore that new fathers are a critical audience to promote breastfeeding and safe infant sleep," said lead author John James Parker, MD, a paediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, an internist at North-western Medicine, and an Instructor of paediatrics at North-western University Feinberg School of Medicine.

"Many families do not gain the health benefits from breastfeeding because they are not provided the support to breastfeed successfully. Fathers need to be directly engaged in breastfeeding discussions and providers need to describe the important role fathers play in breastfeeding success. Additionally, fathers need to receive counselling on all of the safe sleep practices for their infants. To reduce racial disparities in sudden unexpected infant death, we need tailored strategies to increase safe infant sleep practices in the Black community, including public campaigns to increase awareness and home visiting programs. These interventions must involve both parents to be most effective."

The study included 250 fathers who were surveyed two to six months after their infant's birth.

"As paediatricians we focus on how to ensure the best health outcomes for children, with successful breastfeeding and safe sleep practices being two key behaviour’s that impact children's health," said senior author Craig Garfield, MD, MAPP, founder of the Family & Child Health Innovations Program (FCHIP) at Lurie Children's.

He is Professor of Paediatrics and Medical Social Sciences at North-western University Feinberg School of Medicine.

"Our study highlights the fact that fathers play a big role in both these behaviours but there is more to be done to support fathers. For example, we found that fathers with college degrees were more likely to report that their baby breastfed and they were more likely to receive guidance on infant sleep safety. To improve child health outcomes, we need to make sure that breastfeeding and safe sleep guidance reaches all new parents equitably." (ANI)