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Feeding Baby

Partners key to breastfeeding success

Mums who feel supported by their partners have better milk production and their breastfeeding success increases, University of Waikato master’s student Angga Rahadian’s research has found. Stress is known to dry up breast milk, so happy mothers are key when it comes to feeding their children.

Originally from Jakarta, Angga based her research around Indonesian parents but her findings are also relevant in New Zealand.

Angga studied at the University of Waikato’s National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis that has expertise in population health. Angga focussed on social policy in Indonesia relating to supporting the role that fathers play in breastfeeding, such as paternity leave, and improvements that would contribute to higher rates of breastfeeding success.

Her research centred on improving exclusive breastfeeding rates, where babies are supported only by breast milk for the first six months of life. Even though the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life are well understood, there is a lot of room for improvement in exclusive breastfeeding rates in Indonesia as well as in New Zealand.

“I have two young daughters and was successful in exclusive breastfeeding thanks to the support of my husband,” Angga says, “but some of my friends weren’t as lucky.” Indonesia currently legislates for three months’ leave for new mothers, but there is no specific paternity leave available in Indonesian regulations.

“Every company in Indonesia has a different policy on paternity leave,” Angga says. “In some companies, paternal leave is given for only one day. Fathers wanting to take time off to support their partner and baby commonly have to take annual leave and are reliant on their employers to grant this.”

Angga’s research found that when mothers feel well-supported and calm, milk production and breastfeeding success increases. Two areas of support from the father were vital to breastfeeding success: physical support and psychological support.

Physical support included assisting with housework, cooking and other household tasks to allow the mother to rest and give her time to focus on feeding her baby. Psychological support included fathers educating themselves on breastfeeding and helping to protect the mother from any negative comments from family and friends.

When her thesis is complete, Angga will return to Indonesia where she plans to present her findings to relevant policy and programme development agencies, as well as breastfeeding supporting communities, with recommendations for policy change. She and her husband have previously been involved in a breastfeeding community just for fathers (and founded by men), which aims to increase awareness of the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, and to inform and empower dads to play an active role in what is a traditionally viewed as a female-only domain.

The state of play in New Zealand

Research released in 2017 based on the University of Auckland’s Growing Up in New Zealand study found 97 per cent of Kiwi babies are breastfed initially. But the number of infants exclusively breastfed drops sharply to 53.4 per cent at age four months and drops again to just 15.7 per cent at six months.

The study followed 6,685 single-born children from birth until the age of two.

Paediatrician and report co-author Cameron Grant said many Kiwi mothers wanted to breastfeed but had trouble, and healthcare professionals were keen to help those women. “Some mums said they didn’t have enough milk, some said the baby wasn’t satisfied, some said the baby weaned itself, and some mums went back to work and it became too difficult,” he said.

Breastfeeding has many health benefits. “Here in New Zealand it prevents infections, helps dental development in children and potentially has an effect on their intelligence,” Cameron says.

The research also showed breastfeeding promoted higher intelligence quotient scores in children, healthy weight ranges, lower infectious morbidity, and reduced rates of diabetes.

“Breastfeeding is the best option. But there certainly are some mums who are unable to do that, and we do have good alternatives that are very safe. We will always work to ensure every child is well-nourished.”

Research co-author Teresa Castro said duration of breastfeeding was associated with the mother’s age, ethnicity, education, number of children and whether the pregnancy was planned.

Support makes all the difference

Special things happen when a baby is born and the early bond between father and baby is vital for a child’s long-term health and wellbeing. Breastfeeding can be challenging and tiring so a supportive environment can make all the difference to mum and baby. Dads, partners and the wider whānau play a very important role in the success of breastfeeding.

Sometimes fathers don’t always realise how important they are when it comes to infant feeding – they may even feel a bit left out since the mum is the only one who can breastfeed. But the loving encouragement of a partner is one of the most important factors in a woman’s decision to breastfeed.

As a partner, there are many things you can do to be part of the breastfeeding experience. Read up about the benefits and challenges of breastfeeding and chat with your midwife, doctor or childbirth educator if you have any questions. The more you know, the more you will be able to help. Be supportive of mum’s decision to breastfeed – your loving encouragement will make all the difference and give her confidence, especially in the early days.

There are also some breastfeeding advantages you may not have thought about:„

  • Breastfeeding saves you money. You do not have to spend up large on infant formula, bottles, nipples, warmers, etc.„
  • Going out requires less effort. There is less to pack and carry when you leave the house with your family. Breast milk is always available and at the perfect temperature.„
  • Night feedings are less of a drama. You won’t have to prepare bottles in the middle of the night, and there won’t be any emergency trips to the store because you’re out of formula.

By taking an active part in breastfeeding and your child’s everyday care, you are showing support for your partner and encouraging her to be successful at breastfeeding. You’ll also get to spend more time bonding with your baby, building your own special relationship and gaining more confidence in your role as a parent.

Some practical ways you can support your partner to breastfeed„

  • Offer to help with the other children to give mum alone time with the new baby – read them a story, bath them, go for a walk or play a game together.„
  • Help around the house – do the dishes, make dinner or take care of the grocery shopping. Hang out the washing, do some cleaning or make the school lunches.„
  • If mum is finding breastfeeding hard going, encourage her to keep it up. It may not be easy for every mother at first, but it’s worth the effort!„
  • Help mum to get the rest she needs by spending time with the baby. Helping care for your new baby gives dads, partners and support people a chance to bond with baby. You could bath baby, burp them after a feed, or cuddle and soothe them. Skin-on-skin contact is a great way to connect with your new baby. And don’t forget to help with nappy changing – always a popular job!
  • „If it is possible, aim to make at least the first ten days after the birth a ‘babymoon’ for the new mother – time free from cooking, cleaning and childcare (unless she chooses to do these things). Bring baby to mum when it’s time to feed – get her a glass of water and a snack. Feeling comfortable and relaxed will help her milk to let down.

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