The Howard County Health Department became the first department in Maryland to launch an awareness campaign about the role of fathers in the breastfeeding of newborns.
Part of the impetus for the campaign, called "Dad's Supporting Breastfeeding," is a recent study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics that found the opinion of a newborn's father is one of the most important factors in a new mother's decision to breastfeed, according to Dr. Maura Rossman, a pediatrician and the county health officer.
"It was an 'aha moment,' " Rossman said Wednesday at an event announcing the launch of the campaign. "I have to say, after reading this, it was a little contrary to 25 years ago. ... But it totally makes sense."
She added: "As a pediatrician, I certainly know the importance of having dads involved in the decision-making. And as a mom and wife, I certainly know the importance of having a spouse who buys into what we are trying to do and help me in whatever way that is."
The campaign is predicated on two things: detailing the positive effects breastfeeding has on a newborn, and raising awareness about the importance of the dad's role in breastfeeding.
Rossman said breastfed babies are healthier, have fewer ear infections, have less constipation and diarrhea, develop fewer allergies and asthma, and are less likely to be obese as they age.
She added other benefits include saving money and creating less environmental waste.
"Breast milk is best, but breast milk is more than just nutrition," she said. "The physical contact babies get with moms helps them feel more secure, not only in early life, but in the future."
She said physical contact is one of the things dads can do to help give moms a break. The technique is called "Kangarooing" and it involves a shirtless parent clutching the naked newborn against his or her chest. The technique is named after a kangaroo because the position resembles when a kangaroo parent places a kangaroo baby in its pouch.
Additionally, one of the biggest things fathers can do is to help with other duties to give mothers a break. Rossman said those duties include changing diapers, bathing the baby and taking the baby for a walk.
She also said fathers play a big role in supporting mothers when breastfeeding becomes difficult.
"Encouraging Mom, especially in the beginning, when breastfeeding may be a little tough," she said.
At the campaign launch were new parents and Columbia residents Elliot Wilber, 25, and Kaylinda Wilber, 27, and their 5-month old son, Uriah.
Kaylinda cited the nutritional value of breastfeeding. "It benefits the baby so much more than formula would," she said.
She said Elliot has been supportive throughout the process, which she said was more difficult than she anticipated.
"Since the moment he came out, Elliot was with me trying to get him to latch, which is a very important thing to do in the first hour," Kaylinda said. "When we got home, there is the whole challenge of being at home as a new mom and new dad."
She said Elliot has been key in creating and maintaining a feeding schedule, which needs to be monitored and logged.
Elliot said the biggest thing a dad can is to support the mom in any way he can.
"Just do what Mom says, help her out," he said. "If she's upset, you have to comfort her."
Kaylinda said there were times when she didn't think she could continue, but Elliot's support has helped her.
"At times where I felt like I wanted to give up, he would tell me, 'No, remember why we are doing this,' " she said. "And he was great with that."
The Wilbers said that having Uriah at Howard County General Hospital put them on the right track for breastfeeding. Rossman said that the county "is very fortunate" to have a hospital that recognizes the importance of breastfeeding.
At the event, Steven Snelgrove, president and CEO of Howard County General, discussed the hospital's commitment to breastfeeding.
"Many studies have shown that breastfeeding is the perfect nutrition for newborns," Snelgrove said. "Howard County General Hospital encourages and supports exclusive breastfeeding for newborns."
Snelgrove said in 2012, Howard County General Hospital was one of 90 hospitals nationwide, and one of two in the state, selected to participate in a national initiative called "Best Fed Beginnings."
"We are working to achieve baby-friendly designation and successfully implementing this program," he said.