Wendy Jones BSc, MSc, PhD, MRPharmS looks at the importance of fathers to the breastfeeding relationship.
So, congratulations! You are nearing the end of pregnancy. How are you feeling? A new life about to join your family—a huge responsibility for the next 20 years. I bet you have discussed with other fathers about how they have found fatherhood. I am sure many of those stories were scary. Maybe you have asked your own father what it was like when you were about to be born. You are now the “man of the house,” the “guardian of the family,” and the “provider and carer.” Did you think about this part 9 months ago?
How can you help in this next stage?
If your partner has chosen to breastfeed, you might think there’s nothing you can do. Let me assure you that there is a lot you can do. Breastfeeding is the best way for a baby to be fed. Everyone has told you that. Research shows that it not only benefits the baby, but also the mother. So why would you not choose this? Positive attitudes towards breastfeeding from the father are important in a mother’s success in initiating and continuing breastfeeding, so you are important! Research suggests that without the support of their partner, women are more likely to choose formula-feeding. It is thought that changing the negative attitudes and perceptions of breastfeeding in partners could be one way to increase breastfeeding rates (Mitchell-Box et al., 2013). Breastfeeding is a team effort. Some people say it takes a whole village to support a breastfeeding mother. It certainly needs a supportive dad.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and birth
PTSD can occur because of a prior trauma, such as previous sexual assault, or after a traumatic delivery (e.g., emergency caesarean section, forceps-delivery, postpartum haemorrhage, or when a baby is premature or seriously ill). Often, in emergency circumstances, midwives and doctors may have to react quickly, and do not have time to explain in detail what is going on, let alone provide choices. Birth trauma can also be caused by harmful or uncaring actions of health care providers. Witnesses to traumatic births, such as dads or grandmas, can also develop PTSD.
If your partner has experienced a traumatic birth, you or she may have flashbacks or nightmares of the birth that may leave you in a state of high anxiety. Alternatively, the mother may have negative thoughts about the birth and avoid discussing it with her peers or family. In the extreme situation, it may lead to a decision not to have further children. If these thoughts become extreme and do not diminish, it may be possible to meet with a midwife at the hospital where you delivered to discuss what happened and why. It may be that the symptoms appear as anxiety or depression if your caregivers are not listening to your description.
Psychological therapy, and an opportunity to debrief and put the experience into perspective, may be useful rather than medication. See the website for Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth (PATTCh) for more information on resources available to help overcome a traumatic birth experience.
Read more about your importance, dads and grandmas!