Bosom Buddies

Breast Feeding

Everyone agrees that breast is best when it comes to feeding babies. But what does it take for a woman to decide to breast-feed her baby?

The biggest influence is her husband or boyfriend. But until pediatrician Gary Freed became an expectant father, no one thought to examine men's attitudes toward breast-feeding. "No one knows what dads think," declares an incredulous Freed, assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at the University of North Carolina.

So he studied 268 men attending prenatal classes with their partners. What most distinguished the 58 percent of women who planned to breast-feed from the 42 percent who didn't was the attitude of their husbands.

"The partners of the formula moms didn't know breast-feeding was good for their kids," says Freed. And they subscribed to assorted myths and misconceptions: that breast-feeding is bad for the breasts, that it makes breasts ugly. They also thought it would interfere with sex.

Partners of the breast-feeders, by contrast, believed breast-feeding would abet mother-infant bonding, they believed it would protect their infants against disease, and they were more likely to have added respect for their partner if she breast-fed. Interestingly, Freed reports in Pediatrics, both groups of men felt breast-feeding in public was not acceptable.

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"Men are not such big clods as we think they are. We demand that they be supportive -- but we exclude them from the education process" writes Freed. He speaks from experience: "My wife and I attended prenatal education classes, but only she was offered classes about breast-feeding. I signed up, too; and they all thought I was a sex pervert with a breast fixation. Even though I'm a pediatrician, I needed to know more."

Freed believes that men should be given prenatal classes in breast-feeding. "It will conquer their myths and misperceptions." And help to stem the ten-year decline in breast-feeding among American women. He would not exempt his colleagues from such an education. "Physician support is also important for breast-feeding women. No one should give women bad information."

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