Despite ample evidence of the benefits of breastfeeding, studies have found that less than 15 per cent of Australian babies are exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months. In western societies in particular, fathers have a major influence on a woman’s decision to breastfeed, and the duration for which she breastfeeds. But while dads typically want to support their partners when it comes to breastfeeding, they often don’t know what they can do to help.
Milk Man is a smartphone app developed by PhD candidate Becky White that aims to encourage men to learn about the importance of breastfeeding, and provides information on how they can support their partners if they experience breastfeeding problems.
It is potentially the first breastfeeding app exclusively targeted at men in Australia and the world, and is one of two interventions being trialled as part of the Parent Infant Feeding Initiative (PIFI), led by Professor Jane Scott and colleagues in the School of Public Health and the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine at Curtin.
“Traditionally during pregnancy the focus is on the mother and preparing for the impending birth,” Scott says.
“Fathers want to support their partners and be ‘hands-on dads’ but they often don’t know where they can look for this information. Milk Man provides or links them with information via their phone which they carry around with them every day …”
“While fathers are encouraged to attend antenatal classes, the focus is on how they can support their partner during the birth. There are limited opportunities for fathers to receive information on their role as fathers and how they can support their partners to breastfeed.”
The primary aim of PIFI is to extend the length of time a woman breastfeeds her baby. It will be the first Australian study to provide significant evidence of the impact on breastfeeding duration using a male-focused intervention. The initiative is funded by the Health Promotion Foundation of Western Australia, and aims to recruit 1,600 expecting couples through antenatal classes at public and private hospitals in the Perth metropolitan area.
PIFI is a four-armed, randomised control trial and is evaluating two interventions in the four trial groups either singly or in combination. The fourth group is a control group that will receive the usual antenatal and postnatal activities that are offered by the maternity hospital.
The first intervention is a male-only antenatal class facilitated by a young father with breastfeeding ‘experience’. The class provides dads with a safe environment to learn about breastfeeding and helps to prepare them for the early months of fatherhood from a peer who has already experienced it.
The second intervention is Milk Man. The smartphone app provides a space for men to talk to each other about breastfeeding and parenting, delivers infant-age relevant information and provides a complete library of evidence based information – all delivered in a quirky, fun format. It uses gamification, social connectivity, avatars and push notifications, and has been developed and tested with members of the target group, and with experts in the field.
Since the trial began in August 2016, Milk Man has been well received by fathers, with 80 per cent of the intervention group downloading the app. Users have also read articles on parenting topics 7,852 times, or an average of 16 per user, and have followed links to service provider websites 1,356 times, or an average of three per user.
The results from the trial are expected in late 2017, and Professor Scott anticipates the app will be available to the public soon after, where there is an ever-growing shift in the role men play as fathers and partners.
“The feedback we are getting from dads and their partners has been very positive,” says Scott.
“Our research shows that fathers want to support their partners and be ‘hands-on dads’ but they often don’t know where they can look for this information. Milk Man provides or links them with information via their phone which they carry around with them every day and can access immediately.”