Innovative Program Engages Inner-City Fathers in Breastfeeding Support

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Innovations in Pediatrics - Summer 2016 Download PDF

Lydia Furman, MD Lydia Furman, MD

The benefits of breastfeeding are well-established, for the infant, mother, family and society at large. However, for many high-risk, inner-city mothers, challenges and lack of support interfere with making the choice to breastfeed. In Cleveland, for example, only about 11 percent of new mothers receiving WIC benefits report breastfeeding their infants.

Now, however, a coalition of Cleveland medical and nonprofit leaders has discovered an approach that may move the needle on this issue. They’ve found that they can successfully recruit and engage inner-city fathers to support breastfeeding through peer-led education sessions in the community.

The breastfeeding curriculum is based on Breast for Success, developed by Lydia Furman, MD, Pediatrician, UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in collaboration with the Cleveland Department of Public Health’s MomsFirst Program, with funding from the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation and the American Academy of Pediatrics. But there’s a twist. Her partner at the Healthy Fathering Collaborative of Cleveland’s Community Endeavor Foundation, Steve Killpack, has conducted focus groups and has revised the curriculum to be more “father-friendly.” The team also includes Rev. Dr. Brian Moore of the faith-based organization Passages, Inc., who delivers the curriculum to fathers at community meetings.

“Men are not necessarily comfortable seeking health care,” adds Killpack. “We’re not health seekers; we’re not always comfortable in rooms with doctors. We try to meet men where they are, where they feel respected, trusting and comfortable.”

Results show that the approach works. Of the 66 fathers recruited from nonprofit groups and through clients of MomsFirst, nearly half attended all three weekly breastfeeding education sessions. In addition, 85 percent were more likely Innovative program engages inner-city fathers in breastfeeding support to want their next baby to be breastfed. The group published the results of its feasibility study recently in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine.

“There were a lot of myths and misinformation out there about breastfeeding, and over a couple of hours, we were able to tell them about the benefits of breastfeeding and give them talking points to share with their parenting partners,” Dr. Moore says.

For Dr. Furman, one of the most important aspects of the project is making father-friendly adjustments to the curriculum.

“Some of the changes might be very simple, such as creating a handout that can fit in a man’s wallet instead of a woman’s purse,” she says. “The language is important, too. It has to address the reader. That may seem trivial, but if it’s not done, the man will feel it’s not intended for him.”

Dr. Moore is currently using the father-friendly Breast for Success curriculum as part of a five-year federal grant on responsible fatherhood. His group, Passages, is targeting fathers of any age who have a child under age 1, with the goal of helping them understand the principles and benefits of breastfeeding.

The curriculum is also being used to train community health workers involved in Ohio’s Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative. Plus, it’s being used to revise somewhat-dated childbirth education curricula for fathers.

“Many of these programs were written 20 years ago, when the benefits of breastfeeding weren’t as well known,” Killpack says. “So we’re revising that.”

The father-friendly Breast for Success curriculum is free for anyone to use, as is the entire curriculum. Please visit OB/Gyn & Women's Health - For Fathers.

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