Gender Equity, Co-Parenting and Infant Feeding Choices

Jessica Pratezina, MA, is a Ph.D. student in Interdisciplinary Studies (Child and Youth Care; Sociology) at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Her doctoral research studies gender equality, father involvement, and early family formation.

Research shows that a father’s positive involvement significantly impacts every domain of their child’s development. Less attention has been paid to how a father’s involvement can improve a mother’s health, wellbeing, and especially relationship satisfaction. Not every happy, healthy family wants or needs a dad (like lesbian couples or single mums). But when a father is an expected part of family life, they can make a world of difference not only to his children but to his partner. In particular, when couples share childcare and household responsibilities equitably, the benefits to a mum can be significant.

Yet, gender equality isn’t one of the topics parents are encouraged to discuss during their parenting transition. In between learning how to clip those impossibly tiny newborn fingernails and piecing together cribs that seem to require an engineering degree to assemble, talking about how to keep childcare and housework tasks fair and equal isn’t something most couples are supported to do.   

 Gender equality is also not usually discussed as a factor influencing parents’ feeding choices. When I worked as an infant development specialist, I was taught to ask all sorts of questions about a mother’s feeding plans. The intention was to guide (or possibly guilt) the mum into choosing exclusive breastfeeding. 

I was never taught to ask a mum how she wanted to involve the baby’s dad in feeding and how the different feeding options might support or hinder an equal sharing of the baby’s care.

While some prenatal programs claim to be aimed more at parents, these supports are most often designed for mothers, with a wealth of content on breastfeeding and pumping. If it’s discussed at all, infant formula is often spoken of as a second-rate choice or something that a mum might turn to out of desperation. But choosing formula has many benefits, including allowing dads and mums to be involved in feeding.

Many parents find breastfeeding a meaningful, rewarding choice that fits their family’s needs and lifestyle. But realistically, this can also be stressful for a mother, who must be the exclusive source of her child’s nutrition and available around the clock.

A downside we don’t often mention is that dads can feel left out, even helpless, compared to their breastfeeding partners. Muhammed Nitoto, who writes about parenting at Chronicles of Daddy, tells this story:

I remember the moment I fully realized moms and dads were not equal in the early stages of a child’s life. It was the first time my wife had left me alone with my daughter for an extended amount of time…. I grabbed her bottle of fresh breastmilk and tried to feed her, but she wouldn’t eat…. Finally, my wife gets home to find me completely defeated. She grabbed my daughter and the bottle she refused to take from me, and this little girl started eating with no problem….I went to the bathroom, got in the shower, and cried. I had never been so upset before. I felt defeated and like I couldn’t do this parenting thing because I wasn’t what she needed.

Combined with how dads are so routinely excluded from social supports, especially prenatal programs and “mums’ groups” after a baby is born, it’s no wonder that new fathers can enter into parenting not only feeling unprepared but helpless. This exclusion is even more pronounced for Indigenous fathers and dads of colour. 

“Dads are rarely involved in prenatal prep; when they are, they’re often treated as a kind of mother’s helper rather than an equal partner.

When we had our baby, my partner and I made an informed decision to use infant formula from day one exclusively. A driving factor was that formula allows us to share childcare more equally. Still, when I signed up for my local health authority’s free baby care program, they wouldn’t provide information on how to feed with formula safely. Instead, they referred us elsewhere, with the warning that they couldn’t vouch for the quality of information we would find. In effect, they left us on our own to seek support for our formula-feeding choice.

Like mums, dads need up-to-date, research-based, accessible, and inclusive information about baby care, including education and preparation for all feeding options. It’s important to be upfront about the strengths and limitations of different feeding choices. We need to talk and openly discuss the pros and cons of breast, combo, and formula feeding. This includes how breastfeeding can make new dads feel left out and less equipped to care for their babies. This isn’t an inevitable outcome, but it is one that many dads experience and need to be prepared for to make a plan to be involved as fathers through the breastfeeding process, and so they know that their feelings are common. 

Choosing to use infant formula as a means of promoting equality is a valid choice that deserves more discussion.

Jessica Pratezina, MA, is a Ph.D. student in Interdisciplinary Studies (Child and Youth Care; Sociology) at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Her doctoral research studies gender equality, father involvement, and early family formation. She has over a decade of experience as a front-line child and youth care practitioner working with vulnerable families. She is currently developing a podcast about how mother-father co-parents can improve gender equality in their relationship, especially during COVID-19. 

 Resources:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11199-016-0612-3

https://eca.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2021/06/feature-story-involved-fathers-mean-happier-families

https://www.whiteribbon.ca/uploads/1/1/3/2/113222347/fatherhood_report.pdf

https://www.pfige.com/post/new-article-on-father-involvement-and-gender-equality

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09503150902745989

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0002716209334181

The New Seven Letter “F” Word – Fed Is Best

 



CONTACT US/VOLUNTEER

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST IN THE FED IS BEST FOUNDATION!

Our mission statement is:

The Fed Is Best Foundation works to identify critical gaps in the current breastfeeding protocols, guidelines, and education programs and provides families and health professionals with the most up-to-date scientific research, education, and resources to practice safe infant feeding with breast milk, formula, or a combination of both.

Above all, we strive to eliminate infant feeding shaming and eliminate preventable hospitalizations for insufficient feeding complications while prioritizing perinatal mental health.

HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT FED IS BEST

There are many ways you can support the mission of the Fed is Best Foundation. Please consider contributing in the following ways:

  1. Join us in any of the Fed is Best volunteer and advocacy groups. Click here to join our health care professionals group. We have FIBF Advocacy Group, Research Group, Volunteer Group, Editing Group, Social Media Group, Legal Group, Marketing Group, Perinatal Mental Health Advocacy Group, Private Infant Feeding Support Group, Global Advocacy Group, and Fundraising Group.    Please email Jody@fedisbest.org  if you are interested in joining any of our volunteer groups. 
  2. If you need infant feeding support, we have a private support group– Join us here.
  3. If you or your baby were harmed from complications of insufficient breastfeeding, please send a message to contact@fedisbest.org 
  4. Make a donation to the Fed is Best Foundation. We are using funds from donations to cover the cost of our website, our social media ads, and our printing and mailing costs to reach health providers and hospitals. We do not accept donations from breast- or formula-feeding companies, and 100% of your donations go toward these operational costs. All of the Foundation’s work is achieved via its supporters’ pro bono and volunteer work.
  5. Sign our petition!  Help us reach our policymakers and drive change at a global level. Help us stand up for the lives of millions of infants who deserve a fighting chance.   Sign the Fed is Best Petition at Change.org  today and share it with others.
  6. Share the stories, and the message of the Fed is Best Foundation through word-of-mouth, by posting on your social media page, and by sending our FREE infant feeding educational resources to expectant moms you know. Share the Fed is Best campaign letter with everyone you know.
  7. Write a letter to your health providers and hospitals about the Fed is Best Foundation. Write to them about feeding complications your child may have experienced.
  8. Print out our letter to obstetric providers and mail them to your local obstetricians, midwives, and family practitioners who provide obstetric care and hospitals.
  9. Write your local elected officials about what is happening to newborn babies in hospitals and ask for the legal protection of newborn babies from underfeeding and of mother’s rights to honest informed consent on the risks of insufficient feeding of breastfed babies.
  10. Send us your stories. Share with us your successes, your struggles, and everything in between. Every story saves another child from experiencing the same and teaches another mom how to feed her baby safely. Every voice contributes to change.
  11. Send us messages of support. We work daily to make infant feeding safe and supportive of every mother and child.  Your messages of support keep us all going.
  12.  Shop at Amazon Smileand Amazon donates to Fed Is Best Foundation.

Or simply send us a message to find out how you can help make a difference with new ideas!

For any urgent messages or questions about infant feeding, please do not leave a message on this page as it will not get to us immediately. Instead, please email christie@fedisbest.org.

 Thank you, and we look forward to hearing from you!

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