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The Importance of Educating and Engaging Fathers

June 16, 2023

Educating Fathers to Know Best

How intentional are you about educating fathers about newborn anticipatory guidance? If you’re like me, perhaps you could do better. Understandably, much of the focus around feeding, sleeping, and skin care advice in the newborn period is delivered to moms. They did, after all, carry the infant throughout the pregnancy and really are the patient in the hospital after delivery. But a new study early released this week in Pediatrics entitled, “Fathers, Breastfeeding, and Infant Sleep Practices: Findings from a State-Representative Survey,” highlights the importance of fathers on 2 key newborn outcomes – breastfeeding and safe sleep (10.1542/peds.2022-061008). In a novel survey of fathers in Georgia, their attitudes around breastfeeding and safe sleep translated to different outcomes. Fathers with a positive attitude had infants significantly more likely to be breastfed than those with negative opinions or attitudes. Additionally, a majority of fathers were unaware of safe sleep guidance around safe mattresses and empty cribs. It seems like we have some work to do.

What Can We Do to Help Our Patients’ Parents Succeed?

Here are my suggestions on how we can do better:

  1. Take advantage of any opportunity available to educate fathers and address them directly using the best practices in education, such as:
    • Teach back: where you ask the patient or family to teach you what you just told them.
    • Use multiple modalities: including written as well as verbal education at an appropriate educational level.
    • Provide education in the family’s language if that language is not English.
  2. Ask mothers or the other primary caregiver about all the caretakers for newborns who will be involved in their lives for the first months. Grandmothers, daycare providers, and other individuals involved in newborn care need to actively help new parents with supporting breastfeeding and practicing safe sleep practices. Only by knowing everyone involved who can influence how babies sleep and are fed can we begin to make improvements in the poor outcomes we have around low breastfeeding rates and high infant mortality rates in this US.
  3. Address the underlying causes of disparities. As we have repeatedly seen, this paper highlights racial disparities that persist and must be addressed at all levels – mitigating individual biases, working with affected communities, and addressing structural barriers to supporting under-represented racial and ethnic minorities around improving infant outcomes.

While all of this seems overwhelming, there is a simple place to start – be intentional with including fathers with your anticipatory guidance.

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