Fathers' Support Key to Infant Breastfeeding, Safe Sleeping

2 min read

June 16, 2023 – Fathers make a big difference in whether infants are breastfed and are put to sleep safely, according to a study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The study of 250 fathers in Georgia found that among those who wanted their infant to be breastfed, 95% reported their child started breastfeeding and 78% reported breastfeeding at 8 weeks. 

That’s much higher than among fathers who had no opinion on breastfeeding. In that group, only 69% reported their child was breastfed and 33% reported breastfeeding at 8 weeks.

The study reported that 99% of fathers put their infants to sleep. But only 16% of those fathers used the three recommended practices of putting the infant to sleep on their back, using an approved sleep surface such as a crib or a bassinet, and avoiding soft bedding such as blankets or stuffed animals.

The CDC says the three recommended practices can help prevent sudden infant death syndrome. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months of a child’s life.

"Our findings underscore that new fathers are a critical audience to promote breastfeeding and safe infant sleep," lead author John James Parker, MD, an instructor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a Northwestern news release.

"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 counseling on all of the safe sleep practices for their infants.”

The study said Black dads were less likely to put their babies to sleep on their backs and more likely to use soft bedding than White fathers. Parker said the disparities should be addressed with public information campaigns and home visiting programs for the Black community. 

The fathers answered a questionnaire 2 to 6 weeks after their child’s birth. The questionnaire was a companion to the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, a long-running survey used to collect data about new mothers.