Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A father's role in the breastfeeding relationship


This morning as my husband and I awoke, he turned to me and said, "today's blog will go about fathers and breastfeeding". With the biggest grin on my face I rolled my eyes and accused him of mocking me and my blog. Then, with the most serious tone he said  "No! I mean it, talk about the father's role now!"
I thought..'actually..I think I will'. So I proceeded to ask on my Facebook what people thought about the father/partner's role in this unique and close bond that a mother and child shares, i.e. breastfeeding. Here are some responses:


  • An extremely important role: one of supporter. W/o emotional support, it is easier to just give in to the taunts from formula-promoting family & friends.
  • My grandfather once told me that the best father to a child is one that loves the mother of his child. SUPPORT, SUPPORT, SUPPORT!!
  • A big role! It is not just a mother/child bond, you've become a family now.The father is essential in providing mental as well as practical support. I would have never been able to continue breastfeeding for so long without Xander's help.I frequently hear fathers (and mothers) saying that a man cannot help much when a mother chooses to breastfeed, because they themselves cannot breastfeed the child, but nothing is further from the truth! Dads can change diapers, bathe and cuddle with the baby and provide mom with moral support! Breastfeeding (in our case) was a family affair.
  • I like the role my DH plays, if I don't wake up when our baby's hungry, he puts the babe to the breast. Who says dad can't help in breastfeeding! Showing appreciation for doing what's best, and freeing me up doing chores while I'm busy feeding too.

Many a fathers express becoming "invisible" or even useless because the majority of the new mother's and baby's time is spent breastfeeding. Especially during the first tumultuous weeks of getting the hang of breastfeeding, a father can feel like the "servant" having to hurry and fetch a glass of water while mom is nursing, or pick up the older children from school, because mom is busy nursing, or cook because mom is too busy getting a fussy baby too latch on.Dads do well to understand that breastfeeding a newborn, be it the first second or third time around, will always remain time consuming particularly in the postpartum period. So what can fathers do to feel like they are still a "legitimate" and contributing part of the family unit?





Even the baby that breastfeeds very frequently can enjoy a satisfying relationship with his father. Try letting your full breastfed baby lie on her father's chest. Rocking baby on the father's shoulder is often a favorite activity. Many fathers find rewarding times with baby by showing the baby this big, wide world we live in!

The support of a baby's father can help the breastfeeding relationship succeed. The father can head off discouragement, deflect negative comments from friends and relatives, help calm a fussy baby and bring the new mother food and drink while she is breastfeeding. Most importantly the baby's father can remind the new mother that breastfeeding is one of the most important things she can do to get their baby off to a good start in life.Especially in the first few weeks, when lack of sleep and hormonal changes can sometimes make new mothers waver in their determination to breastfeed, a father who suggests, "let's try that one more time," or who reminds his partner that, "they say babies space out their feedings after the three week growth spurt," can be invaluable.

"Babies benefit just as well from close, personal and warm shirtless affection from dad too! This can be a crucial aid in helping babies "connect" so to speak, with their dads and learn to recognize him quicker than just by his voice"


Many times, mothers and fathers underestimate the essential role of the partner. As the aforementioned demonstrated, a father's presence and support is one of the biggest determining factor on whether mom continues to breastfeed. What I find so lovely is when I do house visits by mothers experiencing breastfeeding problems, I sometimes hear "the baby's father said I must persevere with breastfeeding". This is not a harsh, domineering stand, rather it is a much needed "pillar of support" that comes from the man's side. These moms experience relief of having their partners back them up and may give them added determination when problems threaten the breastfeeding relationship.This is not to say that if you don't have a husband/partner or if your husband/partner is anti-breastfeeding you're doomed to fail ... not at all! I brought my daughter up in my parent's house as a single mother and my father was pretty much anti-breastfeeding. When guests would come over, I would have to go nurse my daughter in my room. Still... undeterred, I continued. There were some incidents where, when we were out in a restaurant and my daughter wanted "mum-mums", I was forced to go in the bathroom and nurse her. I sat there nursing her in the restroom with tears rolling down my cheeks, but I knew I was doing what was right and not just what was easy. 


So... what can dads do then? Like was mentioned, moral support and encouragement in the face of difficulties with breastfeeding. Dads can also provide much needed relief and help with older children and/or household chores. Perhaps baby is fed and still fussy and mom needs a well-deserved nap, formula for success? Baby + Sling+ vacuum cleaner's white noise = Rest for mom, bonding time for dad and baby, calm fussy baby, and a clean house. My colleague had such a supportive husband that, when she had gotten sick after a few weeks after the delivery, during the "night shift", when it was the baby's time to nurse, the husband would get up, change the baby's diapers and latch the baby on to her breast to nurse. Wow! Kudos Geraldine...








Note : I don't recommend these types of baby carriers, but you get the point of the picture..





One other very important point I want to emphasize is skin-to-skin contact for father and baby. When we hear and talk about the benefits of skin-to-skin contact after birth, all we hear or may think of is mom and baby. But babies benefit just as well from close, personal and warm shirtless affection from dad too! This can be a crucial aid in helping babies "connect" so to speak, with their dads and learn to recognize him quicker than just by his voice.As was mentioned in a post last month, skin-to-skin with dad too, helps stabilize baby's temperature and breathing pattern. In the latest Mom & Baby issue, they point out that a father's touch is more "rough" and hands on, because fathers tend to be more physical and engage in more touching and bouncing up and down kind of play, whereas a mother's touch is more gentle and her focus is more on engaging in speech such as cooing and humming. So dads! Don't despair! Your presence is important and certainly appreciated. After breastfeeding has become firmly established and mom gets back on her feet ( to some extent),you will definitely see the fruit of your arduous labor.


Note to mom
During the postpartum period, hormonal changes and breastfeeding problems can claim your patience and at least 3/4 of your sanity. If you have older children, double that. It may become easy to let tempers and emotions flare and get entangled in heated arguments. Even though fathers do not give birth, they too go through the postpartum period, especially  if it is his first child. Dad is also trying to navigate through the winds of change and is basically threading on unfamiliar ground. He may be unsure of himself and this in turn may manifest itself as a "lack of interest". Give dad his own time and space to let him figure out what kind of dad he is. Give him the opportunity to display that he is just as hands on as you thought he would be! Instead of leaning over his shoulder and critiquing his every "mistake", offer sincere commendation and show your appreciation for whatever effort he displays, be it much or little. Tell him something to the effect of "You're so good at calming the baby when he's in his all-out crying fit!" "I definitely learned a thing or two from watching you bathe the baby!". These comments play up on their soft nurturing side while still letting them be true to their manliness. It lets them feel that they are getting it right.





















Frankson, you are a wonderful exemplary father....

3 comments:

  1. Very nice post. I will be passing it on to my childbirth/breastfeeding FB support group.
    Thank you!
    Kelly K
    Doula Surround

    ReplyDelete