Father holds son born prematurely skin-to-skin, facilitates bonding and steps up for breastfeeding

Eight years ago, Dennis Gaynor Jr.’s son Samuel was born at 28 weeks gestation weighing 1 lb. 6 oz. Mr. Gaynor was encouraged to hold his baby skin-to-skin during their hospital stay to help improve his baby’s blood oxygen levels, sleep, temperature, breastfeeding and weight gain. Kangaroo Care was a new concept for Mr. Gaynor.

Photo courtesy of the Gaynor family

“[I] didn’t realize that this is such a great way to bond with Sam. But I did it with no hesitation and I’m enjoying every minute, second, and hour,” Mr. Gaynor shared. “The thought of my heart beat going into my sons’ ears brings a melody to my heart.”

Samuel’s mother also held him skin-to-skin and provided her milk which helped them endure several surgeries throughout his first few years of life. 

Mr. Gaynor says that he continued to hold Sam skin-to-skin after they were discharged from the hospital. “He was so small, I was scared to hold him, but that was the only other method,” he explains. “To this day, he lays on my chest; everyone else gives me a normal hug, but this is what we’ve always done.”

Photo courtesy of the Gaynor family

Mr. Gaynor and his wife run a 501(C)3 nonprofit organization called Young Men on a Mission: YMOM (pronounced why mom) established in the inner city of Milwaukee, Wis.  Their programming includes mentoring, sports and work training intended to help young men “gain hope in themselves to create goals that extend beyond their daily existence; retain hope when it appears that the odds are stacked against them; and dare to be somebody.” Find out more about YMOM here: https://www.youngmenonamission.org/about-us  

Check out Healthy Children Project’s Kajsa Brimdyr’s The 9 Stages of Premature Infants film which shows the nine stages demonstrated by premature infants. Find more here.

For a collection of research on skin-to-skin contact visit: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/news-and-research/baby-friendly-research/research-supporting-breastfeeding/skin-to-skin-contact/ 

You can read Facilitating the bond between children and fathers or male-identifying partners which covers the positive effects of skin-to skin contact on paternal attachment here.

Facilitating the bond between children and fathers or male-identifying partners

 There’s quite a bit of literature on why it is important for fathers to support breastfeeding, and robust recommendations on how fathers can be good support people.

Photo by Anna Shvets: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-man-in-blue-long-sleeves-playing-with-his-baby-11369399/

Specifically in Black communities though, there’s a “lack of resources for men to learn about and advocate for breastfeeding.”  George W. Bugg, Jr, et al. write in Breastfeeding Communities for Fatherhood: Laying the Groundwork for the Black Fatherhood, Brotherhood, and Manhood Movement  that “Black men deserve to be educated in culturally competent ways about prenatal and postpartum care to advocate for their partners. This is not happening in a systematic way in the Black community. In the Reproductive Justice space, Black men are basically being treated as if they are invisible.” 

As a whole, our nation lacks support for fathers and male identifying partners to bond with their babies. The father–infant relationship should be honored “in its own framework rather than as an alternative to mother–infant theory.” (Cheng 2011

Author Carolynn Darrell Cheng, et al points out in Supporting Fathering Through Infant Massage that “fathers may feel dissatisfied with their ability to form a close attachment with their infants in the early postpartum period, which, in turn, may increase their parent-related stress.”

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

Infant massage is such a neglected modality, especially in the NICU, where it reduces both the risk of sepsis and bilirubin levels, and gets babies home sooner because their brains mature more quickly and they gain weight faster,” Nikki Lee points out. 

Beyond its benefits to infants, Cheng and colleagues have found that “infant massage appears to be a viable option for teaching fathers caregiving sensitivity.” Their work showed that “fathers were helped by increasing their feelings of competence, role acceptance, spousal support, attachment, and health and by decreasing feelings of isolation and depression. Although not all fathers saw the direct benefit of infant massage instruction, they did note they enjoyed participating in an activity that gave them special time with their infants and appreciated the opportunity to meet other fathers.” 

More broadly, skin-to-skin contact has a positive effect on paternal attachment.  

The results from Effects of Father-Neonate Skin-to-Skin Contact on Attachment: A Randomized Controlled Trial identified touching as the highest-scoring Father-Child Attachment Scale (FCAS) subscale. 

Ontario artist Lindsay Foster’s viral image of fathers BJ Barone and Frankie Nelson meeting Baby Milo captures perfectly the flood of oxytocin that skin-to-skin affords fathers and male-identifying parents.

Fathers BJ (left) and Frankie (right) embrace their seconds-old-newborn boy Milo. Milo’s umbilical cord is still attached to the surrogate in this image.
Photo by Ontario artist Lindsay Foster.
Formerly published in: http://www.ourmilkyway.org/skin-to-skin-image-goes-viral/

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) identifies other ways in which fathers can be “empowered by a whole-of-society approach to fulfill their fathering capacity.” 

WABA suggests that fathers should be engaged and involved throughout the 1,000 days and health systems and care providers can provide knowledge on breastfeeding through antenatal visits, other breastfeeding classes and enabling their participation during labor and delivery and postnatally. 

Sufficient paternity or parental leave is vital to allow time to care for and bond with their new family. 

There is also “a need for greater vigilance against promotion and unethical marketing of breastmilk substitutes targeting fathers to ensure that they also get unbiased information.” [More here.] 

In our national sphere of advocacy, last month, Foundations of Fatherhood Summit hosted Wide World of Fathering  with a mission to advance fatherhood and families in Michigan communities and beyond. The speaker lineup was full of individuals passionate about fatherhood and working to shift the way we view males as parents. 

Presenter Reginald Day, CLC for instance, hosts a podcast called Get At Me Dad which reveals the true narrative of BIPOC fathers–”present, connected and raising strong families.”

Father-son duo Mark and Corey Perlman host another podcast called Nurturing Fathers based on the Nurturing Fathers Program

Last week, New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force Board Member Francisco J. Ronquillo hosted a Hearing our Voices virtual roundtable for fathers and male-identifying partners. 

Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere (ROBE), an organization which seeks to educate, equip, and empower men to impact an increase in breastfeeding rates and a decrease in infant mortality rates within the African-American communities, hosts a monthly virtual call where males can discuss maternal child health related topics.   

In partnership with Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), ROBE will host the 11th Annual Breastfeeding and Equity Summit in New Orleans from August 25  to 27, 2022 where presentations center on equity in breastfeeding, maternal health, fathers and partners, and infant health initiatives.

 

Our Milky Way past coverage on fathers

Photo by PNW Production: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-family-walking-together-on-a-boardwalk-8576210/

New CLC engages fathers, supports breastfeeding, heals communities

Fathers profoundly influence breastfeeding outcomes

Founder of Fathers’ Uplift adopted into breastfeeding movement

The Institute of Family & Community Impact hosts event to boost paternal mental health

Paternal mental health and engagement

Robert A. Lee, MA answers the call

A lasting bond 

Skin to skin image goes viral

Changing families demand changing policies

Children’s book celebrates the joy of natural-term breastfeeding

Monica Haywood is a researcher by nature. When she became pregnant with her daughter, she read all of the baby books. 

She read about prenatal vitamins, proper nutrition, prenatal appointments, etc., etc., etc. 

“I wanted to do everything right,” Haywood says. 

Sometime during her second trimester, her focus narrowed in on breastfeeding. She was familiar with the stories her mother told about breastfeeding her, but she wanted to know more. Haywood attended La Leche League of Louisville meetings and scoured websites for infant feeding information. 

She felt prepared and laid out a plan to breastfeed her baby for three months. 

“Little did I know, the journey was slightly different,” she laughs. “You can read, read, read, but be prepared to pivot on things that you may have read about.”

Baby Noelle was born in 2017 and instead of breastfeeding for the planned three months, Noelle and Haywood nursed for 34 months. 

Haywood says that while exclusive, natural-term breastfeeding was sometimes challenging like balancing her baby’s needs and self-care and managing other people’s perceptions mostly, breastfeeding created a sense of empowerment and bonding. 

Haywood shared another connection with Noelle through her love of books early on. 

“She was only a couple months old and my husband and I were reading books to her,” she shares. 

“[Reading] helps with language development, and we also thought it was important to find books that she could relate to… characters that look like her and that can relate to her experience,” Haywood continues.  

She found that most children’s breastfeeding books were geared toward weaning, but she was looking for something that celebrates the breastfeeding journey, something that could capture what she and Noelle were doing. 

And when she couldn’t find it, she created it. Haywood wrote Noey Loves Nursing, a colorful book that commemorates her nursing journey, celebrates a diverse character,  and educates and brings awareness to extended breastfeeding. 

“I wish I could get it in the hands of every breastfeeding mother!” Haywood exclaims. 

The book is highly admired by younger readers including her daughter who Haywood says is really excited by the book. 

Another young reader, Blake, shares his reading of Noey Loves Nursing @readingwith_blake

“When I saw [the video],  it literally brought me to tears,” Haywood says. “It’s just awesome.” 

Before COVID-19, Haywood enjoyed sharing Noey Loves Nursing at in-person gatherings like LLL Louisville’s Live Love Latch during National Breastfeeding Month and Healthy Children Project’s International Breastfeeding Conference. She’s also shared her story with local WIC offices.

This summer, Haywood adapted to Zoom and Facebook Live events to celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month with her book. 

Haywood looks forward to the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s (USBC) National Conference in 2021 where she hopes to bring her mother and Noelle– three generations sharing their breastfeeding journeys. 

The second edition of Noey Loves Nursing will be released later this year or in early 2021. Get connected with Haywood on social media @noeylovesnursing, @monicareneeinc and on Facebook.

Paternal mental health and engagement

Humans are born connected. Separation is a learned behavior and in Western society, is often an accelerated process beginning just moments after birth

Photo by Kreated Media on Unsplash

If we can learn to separate, then we can unlearn those practices too. We can learn to reconnect. 

In recent time, skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth and beyond has been widely embraced as a tool to keep mothers and babies connected and to promote bonding. Skin-to-skin contact is encouraged to facilitate bonding between baby and father and other care providers too. 

As NICHQ President and CEO Scott D. Berns, MD, MPH, FAAP points out in Fathers: Powerful Allies for Maternal and Child Health, “father engagement and involvement is a critical opportunity to improve children’s health outcomes in the decades to come”… beginning in the prenatal period. 

Despite overwhelming evidence demonstrating the importance of paternal involvement, fathers are up against significant barriers “including systemic obstacles related to employment, and a lack of confidence stemming from social stereotypes about the expected role of a father—namely that their role is somehow secondary to the mother’s.” [https://www.nichq.org/insight/fathers-powerful-allies-maternal-and-child-health

Fathers BJ (left) and Frankie (right) embrace their seconds-old-newborn boy Milo. Milo’s umbilical cord is still attached to the surrogate in this image. Photo by Ontario artist Lindsay Foster. Formerly published in: http://www.ourmilkyway.org/skin-to-skin-image-goes-viral/

In an effort to address paternal mental health, Healthy Children Project faculty Eira Yates in partnership with OhioGuidestone developed the Yates Paternal Depression Screening Tool for male fathers, a first of its kind measurement. 

The tool is reminiscent of the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale (EPDS) developed to screen for depression in women during and after pregnancy and childbirth, but different in that it is sensitive to fatherhood and “not retrofitted and adapted from tools developed to capture unique characteristics of depression in women and mothers.” 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The Yates tool can screen male fathers during the perinatal period (prenatal or before birth up to 12 months after birth) for signs of depression with questions related to Mood/Loss of Interest and Motivation, Aggression/Irritability, Self-Concept/Feelings of Worth, Social System Deficits and Drug/alcohol use.  

“We believe that a culturally sensitive, carefully designed tool can give insight into the particular ways depression manifests in male fathers, identify men at risk for perinatal depression, and highlight the need to tailor treatment and services to the unique experiences of male fathers,” Brittany Pope, M.S., Director of Applied Clinical Sciences and Research at OhioGuidestone explains. “Furthermore, we hope to spur opportunities to explore potential programming, treatment and policy changes, both to raise awareness of the need to screen male fathers and to offer efficient and effective services and programs to meet their clinical and parenting needs.” 

The tool isn’t yet published and due to COVID-19,  research activity has been suspended, however the team plans to reopen the study using remote telehealth videoconferencing in August/September. This method will allow for even higher recruitment and screening. 

You can learn more about the screening tool at The Institute of Family & Community Impact’s website here

Photo by Chris on unsplash

In another effort to include fathers in the conversation around birth practice, separation and support,  Lactation Specialist Lydia O. Boyd, CLE is conducting a survey to capture the experiences of Black males through the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey can be found here

Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere (ROBE), an organization dedicated to educating, equipping, and empowering men to impact an increase in breastfeeding rates and a decrease infant mortality rates within the African-American communities, is hosting its 2020 Virtual Summit June 23 & 25 featuring speakers Dr. Saturu Ned, former Black Panther, Dr. Brian McGregor, Dr. Torian Easterling, Kenn Harris from National Healthy Start and the entire ROBE team. Register here.