Adequate spousal support for breastfeeding mothers

Published 6:16 am Saturday, December 9, 2017

By Krystal Anderson-Watts

Mothers often accept the challenge to breastfeed their newborns with hopes of avoiding any obstacles or situations that may deter them from continuing to provide their children with vital nutrients. However, mothers may encounter obstacles involved with nursing that hinder or lead to cessation of breastfeeding. For example, women may deal with workplace stressors such as the lack of appropriate facilities to nurse or schedule conflicts that curtail the time available for pumping during the work day. Also when attempting to nurse in public, occasionally those persons lacking knowledge about the appropriateness of breastfeeding scrutinize nursing mothers. As a result of this, healthcare providers, legislative officials and other personnel involved in breastfeeding practices work towards improving policies for breastfeeding with the intentions of empowering women to continue their breastfeeding journeys. While those obstacles outside of the home maintain the attention of breastfeeding advocates, the lack of support from within the home specifically with the spouse or partner of the breastfeeding mother, in some instances, remains unaddressed.

A mother that plans to exclusively breastfeed her newborn may never fully understand each and every issue she may encounter during this process. In some cases, these obstacles are of no importance when the mother’s desire is to improve the newborn’s health by assisting in possibly decreasing the risk of diabetes mellitus 2, diarrhea, and/or respiratory infections (Mosca & Gianni, 2017). For increased likelihood of success, it is imperative that the father of the child, spouse and/or designated family member of the breastfeeding mother provide adequate support and guidance to the breastfeeding mother as appropriate. A few examples of the type of support provided include the following: providing assistance with other children, maintaining the home, or even offering a shoulder to cry on when the breastfeeding mother feels overwhelmed.

Support for the breastfeeding mother may come in the form of doctor’s advice, lactation consultants, grandparents, parents, or friends. The spouses of the breastfeeding mothers may serve as the primary source of support. Research conducted with breastfeeding mothers demonstrated that advice from coworkers negatively affected the mother’s opinions towards breastfeeding, but receiving advice from grandparents assisted in the mother continuing to breastfeed (Cisco, 2017). In a study looking at both active duty military and dependent mothers (spouses of active duty military members) that breastfeed, women expressed that the lack of support from their spouse and the job requirements of either the spouse or themselves negatively affected their ability to continue breastfeeding. However, the authors state a change in policy may positively affect perceptions and improve rates of continued breastfeeding (Bales, Washburn, & Bales, 2012).

Media campaigns demonstrating the spouses providing support may focus on the spouse in the hospital providing skin to skin contact with the newborn, show the father assisting the mother assembling the breast pump, or simply may focus on a task such as watching the other children play as the mother breastfeeds her infant. These media campaigns may also impact perceptions of the general public in a positive manner. Sensitivity training before the birth of the baby may prove to be effective; it’s possible that a spouse’s increased empathy towards the breastfeeding mother and her needs may positively influence continued breastfeeding. For instance, working mothers may struggle to maintain an appropriate amount of stored breast milk; in this case, it is important for spouses to understand the importance of each ounce of milk produced by the mother via the breast pump. Mothers literally do cry over “spilled milk”.

Policy allowing for the implementation of classes specifically for spouses or partners of the breastfeeding mothers emphasizing breastfeeding guidelines, barriers to breastfeeding and good breastfeeding practices may prove to be beneficial for breastfeeding mothers in the long term. New mothers’ perceptions of increased support in the form of general conversation about problems before or after childbirth was directly associated to the decreased risk of significant amounts of crying in their babies (Alexander, Zhu, Paul, & Kjerulff, 2017). As this study does not directly mention breastfeeding, lessons may be learned from this finding; it seems possible that a supportive and encouraging family dynamic with open communication assists in a more nurturing environment for the breastfeeding mother. Lastly, breastfeeding mothers and their spouses experience successful breastfeeding outcomes when practicing a team approach to communication (Rempel, Rempel,& Moore, 2017).

Policy specifically directed toward improving the father’s role in supporting the breastfeeding mother may not decrease the obstacles that a mother experiences outside of the home such as workplace barriers. However, it can foster an environment in the home that promotes continued breastfeeding practices until the mother meets her breastfeeding goals. Once policies that invest in spouses of breastfeeding mothers come into fruition, the responsibility to act and provide adequate support and nutrition for the infant and breastfeeding mother must be a shared goal of all caregivers.

Krystal Anderson-Watts, a former Orange resident, is a current student at Johns Hopkins University.



Alexander, C.P., Zhu, J., Paul, I.M., Kjerulff, K.H. (2017). Fathers make a difference: positive relationships with mother and baby in relation to infant colic. Child: Care, Health and Development, 43 (5), 687-696.

Bales, K., Washburn, J., Bales, J. (2012). Breastfeeding rates and factors related to cessation in a military population. Breastfeeding Medicine. 7 (6), 436-441.

Cisco, J. (2017). Who supports breastfeeding mothers? An investigation of kin investment in the United States, Hum Nat, 28, 231-253.

Mosca, M. and Gianni, M. (2017). Human milk: composition and health benefits. La Pediatria Medica e Chirugica. 39 (155), 47-52.

Rempel, L., Rempel, K., Moore, K. ( 2017). Relationships between types of father breastfeeding support and breastfeeding outcomes. Maternal and Child Nutrition, 13. doi:10.1111/mcn.12337.