Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Breastfeeding: how can dad help?

Once again, this article is from the Bornew Bulletin Weekend but its only on their website for a week so I've copied it here.

Breastfeeding: how can dad help?
By Dr Hjh Norlila Dato Paduka Hj Abdul Jalil, Breastfeeding Trainer, Ministry of Health

Breastfeeding, what does it have to do with fathers? Most people would say that traditionally it is a taboo subject for men and is only discussed amongst mothers and midwives. This is because only women can breastfeed.

However, in modern day Brunei where both men and women are out in the workplace coupled with the aggressive campaigns by milk formula companies to promote their products, many mothers are giving milk formula to their babies rather than breast milk. This is despite knowing that breast milk is far superior to milk formula.

Why? This is because the greatest fear expressed by many Bruneian mothers is that their breast milk will not be enough to feed their babies so that they will have to supplement their milk with milk formula.

This doubt, if seeded, will slowly grow and definitely lead to their eventual failure to breastfeed. Unfortunately, this fear is totally groundless! With the right knowledge, support and attitude, the great majority of Bruneian mothers have the potential to successfully and exclusively breastfeed their babies. And for this fathers play a very important role.

Successful breastfeeding will result in a happy, healthy and intelligent baby, all that parents would wish for in their newborn child. Whether breastfeeding becomes a success or not, depends on various factors from the woman herself right to the kind of environment in which she is living in.

The first step towards successful breastfeeding is self-confidence, which means that the mother must believe that she can breastfeed. She must know that her milk is all that her baby needs and that her breasts, whatever their size or shape, will produce perfect milk in sufficient quantity. She should also be armed with the necessary knowledge not only about the techniques and advantages of breastfeeding, but also the normal changes expected in her body and the expected behaviour of a normal breastfed baby.

Meanwhile, the father being the closest person to her plays a pivotal role in helping the mother to achieve all this. However, he needs to understand this role and the associated responsibilities so that he can make a positive rather than negative contribution.

For the first few weeks after childbirth, a woman is more sensitive and emotional. This helps her to love her baby, but she also becomes upset more easily. She can easily doubt her ability to look after her baby, especially if it is her first child and can easily do what other people tell her to do.

If there is a difficulty, or if someone asks her: "Do you really have enough milk?" she may stop breastfeeding altogether. The first role of a father is to support his wife emotionally, especially when his wife is having postnatal blues. He should provide a comforting shoulder to cry on if she is particularly tearful and strengthen her with words of encouragement. If she should have any doubts whatsoever about breastfeeding, he should reassure her and help to dispel her fears.

The attitude of other people in the family is also important. If her family believes that breastfeeding is normal, natural and best for her baby, she is more likely to succeed. However, if those who are near and dear to her think of breastfeeding as being difficult, embarrassing, old fashioned or inconvenient, she is more likely to fail.

Therefore, a father plays another invaluable role of providing moral support. As the 'leader' and head of his family, he can encourage his wife and other relatives that he wants her to breastfeed and knows that her milk is the best food for their baby. He should be the first to motivate his wife to breastfeed, instil in her the confidence that she can breastfeed successfully and, if she is working, be supportive and encourage her to continue breastfeeding as long as she can.

Material support is another important role. The Holy al-Quran, in surah al-Baqarah verse 233 states: "The mothers shall breastfeed their children for two whole years, (that is) for those (parents) who desire to complete the term, but the father of the child shall bear the cost of the mother's food and clothing on a reasonable basis. No person shall have a burden laid on him greater than he can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child, nor father on account of his child....". Thus a father should provide adequate nutritious food for the mother to ensure the health and well-being of both mother and child. This is because a breastfeeding mother has an increased dietary requirement in terms of energy, proteins, vitamins and minerals compared to other women, including pregnant women.

A father should also provide support in other practical ways such as helping to do some of the housework and look after the other children, especially if they cannot afford to employ a housekeeper or if there is no other help available from their extended families. He must understand that a breastfeeding mother needs to have adequate sleep, rest and nutrition in order to maintain a sufficient milk supply.

When the baby is not breastfeeding or sleeping, the father can spend that precious time to bond with his new baby by holding and talking. He can even help with the feeding for example by giving the baby expressed breast milk himself, during the times that the mother is unable to breastfeed directly.

There are certain issues regarding breastfeeding, which may be of concern to fathers. Firstly, is the question whether breastfeeding will affect a woman's beauty and body shape? It should be reassuring for him to know that breastfeeding helps a woman to lose weight after delivery and helps her to keep in shape.

It also helps to prevent bleeding from the uterus after birth and prevents breast cancer. Therefore, it has health benefits for his wife. He may also be worried that matrimonial or sexual relationships will be affected by breastfeeding, however there is no evidence to support this.

On the contrary a happy, healthy mother and baby consolidates the marital harmony and strengthens family relationships. Some fathers have even reported how they like to watch their wives breastfeed their babies and the warm feelings they experience on witnessing such a personal and tender moment.

Such experiences help to create strong bonds between father-mother-baby, which the father can consolidate even more by playing a more active hands on role in his baby's everyday life as outlined previously.

In summary, fathers undeniably play a very important role in helping mothers to succeed in breastfeeding. Modern fathers should dispose of the old belief and attitude that breastfeeding is the sole responsibility of mothers. They should take the initiative to learn more about breastfeeding and become more actively involved for the future and well being of their children. - Ministry of Health Public Awareness Programme

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