Making Dads a Part of the Solution

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Making Dads a Part of the Solution

Milwaukee initiative includes fathers in the breastfeeding process

Darryl Davidson, a father peer advocate in the Milwaukee-based African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN), wasted no time giving the reality of life in that city. Milwaukee ranks near the bottom of health indicators in the state of Wisconsin, he said. “Access to primary health care is a never-ending discussion. The physical environment in some communities leaves much to be desired. And children living in poverty has been in the top five [hot topics] for the last number of years. In fact, while some parts of Milwaukee rival the lifestyles of rich and famous, sections less than five miles away rival third world countries.”

These “less desirable” communities, the areas with the city’s highest crime rates and poverty, also have the highest rates of infant mortality. While infant mortality has been linked to poverty, stress and the infections that come from poor quality of environment and food, “there’s an association between breastfeeding and the healthy growth of children,” Davidson said. “There’s also a relationship between breastfeeding and the way a child sleeps, which reduces risk of suffocation and high infant mortality.”

For these reasons, Davidson is part of an initiative that makes sure dads are part of the solution with making Milwaukee a baby-friendly environment. The goal of the initiative, he explained, was to improve infant and maternal health through increasing breastfeeding rates among 120 African-American families in Milwaukee.

Davidson was spurred, in part, by his personal story. When his children were born, his wife made the decision about breastfeeding. He was kept on the side lines. “We have to look at what’s taking place culturally and socially. I was told this is the realm of the mother exclusively,” he said. “That this was not my lane.”

The father peer advocate initiative of the AABN established several learning objectives:

to introduce tactics to improve breastfeeding rates
to understand role of the father peer advocate
to provide examples of success with breastfeeding initiation and exclusivity
They faced a number of challenges, including a lack of knowledge, poor family and social support, lactation problems, and employment and child care. Those challenges didn’t include concerns and misconceptions fathers, many of whom don’t live with their children’s mothers, had about breastfeeding:

it interferes with sex
the mom leaks milk
the baby is always at mom’s breast
a lack of knowledge about how to store, freeze and warm breast milk
worries about returning to school or work
The AABN father peer advocate program worked, Davidson said, exceeding the 120-family goal. Their sessions for dads, a series of monthly gatherings, were facilitated by father peer advocates and held in conjunction with sessions for moms. The sessions included:

Three rotating topics

Getting off to the Best Start With Breastfeeding
Prepare, Plan, Pump: Tips for Returning to Work or School
Protecting and Building Your Milk Supply
Three one-time topics

All Your Baby Needs Is Breast Milk
Father’s Loving Support for Breastfeeding
Childcare Centers and Business Supporting Breastfeeding
“Fathers were only required to attend three sessions,” Davidson said, “but many attended all six.”

Dads also learned tips for supporting breastfeeding moms:

help with chores, care for other children
take baby to mom to breastfeeding
be patient and understanding with baby and mom
protect mom’s time when breastfeeding (“It’s her time to relax, too,” Davidson said.)
do things that will make mom feel good (“Praise her for breastfeeding, do something special for her, be proud because everyone’s role is important,” he said.)
Feedback from the dads was positive, according to Davidson, with most saying having a network of peers where they could talk about the importance of breastfeeding was highly favorable. They also learned that planning is not a negative, natural is not always easy, engagement is easier when needs are communicated and men can perform duties that support healthy babies

BHM Edit Staff