- Fathers who encouraged breastfeeding were more likely to see their infants continue to breastfeed at 8 weeks.
- Only 16 percent of dads followed all 3 safe-sleep practices recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- More educational resources are needed for fathers to better understand breastfeeding and promote safe sleep.
A study published in June 2023 in the journal Pediatrics affirmed that fathers are an important factor in whether breastfeeding is successful and whether babies sleep in safe environments.
For decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has conducted a survey of mothers as part of its Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), to identify risks to infants before, during, and after pregnancy. In recent years, many mothers completing this assessment have asked that it include fathers; now, a research team has launched the PRAMS for Dads. The initial survey included 250 fathers who were surveyed 2 to 6 months after the birth of their child. They were asked about both breastfeeding and safe sleep practices.
The study found that 86 percent of fathers reported that their infant attempted breastfeeding, yet only 63 percent reported that their infant was still breastfeeding at 8 weeks. The study also found that it seemed to matter whether fathers encouraged breastfeeding. Of fathers who reported that they wanted their infant to breastfeed, 95 percent of the infants' mothers attempted breastfeeding and 78 percent were still breastfeeding at 9 weeks. Of fathers who reported that they did not want their infant to breastfeed or had no opinion, just 69 percent of the infants' mothers attempted breastfeeding and only 33 percent were still breastfeeding at 8 weeks.
Safe Sleep Practices
The survey found that 99 percent of fathers reported that they put their baby down to sleep, yet only 16 percent of them followed all of the safe sleep practices recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. These include placing the infant on their back to sleep, using only approved sleep surfaces for infants, and avoiding soft bedding, blankets, and stuffed animals. In practice, 81 percent of fathers put their infants to sleep on their backs, but only 32 percent put them down on an approved sleep surface, and only 44 percent avoided soft bedding, blankets, and stuffed animals.
This study had some important limitations, including a low response rate (only 31.7 percent of fathers asked to complete the survey actually did so) and a relatively small sample size (only 250 fathers). In addition, it did not control for the mothers’ attitudes toward breastfeeding or their knowledge of safe sleep, so it is unclear the extent to which fathers may be influenced by mothers.
This study suggests that it may be important to focus on the education of fathers regarding the benefits of breastfeeding and safe sleep. More educational resources are needed for fathers to better understand breastfeeding and promote safe sleep. Public health initiatives on these topics should be expanded to include fathers.