Views of fathers in Ireland on the experience and challenges of having a breast-feeding partner
Abstract Objective this study investigated the relationship between fathers and breast feeding in Ireland. Design and method a cross-sectional semi-quantitative questionnaire with closed-ended and open-ended questions was posted to 1398 men with an Irish partner who had given birth 4–7 months previously. Fathers who specified that their partner breast fed their last or only child were questioned about their: influence on the breast feeding decision; ability to assist with breast feeding challenges; preferred type of information on breast feeding; perceived advantages and disadvantages to breast feeding; and views on breastfeeding in public. Data from closed-ended questions on breast feeding were presented using frequencies and associated percentages. Answers to open-ended questions on breast feeding were categorised into themes using content analysis. Each theme was assigned a numerical code and the themes developed were quantitatively counted and presented as frequencies and percentages. Findings of the 583 respondents (42% response rate), 417 (71.5%) had a partner who had breast-fed their last or only child. Most of the 417 fathers were employed (95.7%, n 399), college-educated (76.7%, n 320) and married (87.8%, n 366). Most (75.5%, n 315) fathers were involved in the breast feeding decision. The majority (77.5%, n 323) of fathers were unprepared for at least one aspect of breast feeding, most commonly that their partner encountered difficulties in establishing breast feeding. Of those fathers with a partner who experienced difficulties with breastfeeding (56.8%, n 237), half (49.4%, n 117) were unable to help their partner to overcome her breast feeding difficulties. Two-fifths (41.0%, n 133) of fathers felt deprived of bonding time. Almost one in ten (9.4%, n 39) fathers felt uncomfortable with an unrelated woman breast feeding in public, and this increased to three in ten or one third (34.3%, n 143) if the woman in question was their partner. Key conclusion while fathers in a well-educated and socially advantaged sample are largely supportive of breast feeding, significant challenges remain in terms of their ability to support breast feeding in an informed and practical manner. Implications for practice women who are practically and emotionally supported by their partners are more likely to successfully breast feed, but the male perspective of breast feeding in Ireland has been given little attention. This study supports earlier and more effective engagement of fathers throughout the breast feeding process, and highlights areas of concern with respect to the role of fathers in breast feeding.