Although fathers have become far more involved in raising their children in the last few decades, there are still a few things that they can’t really do. One of these is breastfeeding, which remains mom’s privilege (and sometimes pain!). In this article, we discuss dad’s role in breastfeeding.
For many new fathers, this is a source of frustration. He loves his little one and wants to be involved in caring for him or her. Yet the baby seems uninterested and has eyes only for mommy’s boobs. It also leaves him incapable of helping his partner when he can see that she can use some help. Most men do not fare well with not being able to do something about a problem.
What is dad’s role in breastfeeding?
One of the first questions asked in the breastfeeding section of my antenatal class is when can dad give a bottle at night so that he can help with baby and mom can catch some rest? The truth is that from a breastfeeding perspective this is not the greatest idea. In the early months, baby can develop nipple confusion and start refusing to breastfeed. Skipping a feed may lead to engorgement, blocked milk ducts and mastitis. Lastly, remember that mom’s body needs the stimulation of frequent feeding to keep up her milk supply.
Here are some perspectives that may help when it comes to dad’s role in breastfeeding.
Blame the baby, not the boobs
The truth is that biologically all babies will lean more towards their moms in the early months. They are wired like this to ensure survival. It manifests more clearly in breastfeeding babies as breastfeeding provides in all their nutritional and many of their emotional needs. But formula-fed babies will also prefer to be with mommy.
This will change as your baby grows, and before you know it you will be the number one provider of fun for your little one.
READ MORE: Tips for expressing breast milk
Biologically your role is different
To once again ensure survival dad’s role is to protect and provide. This is still true, even though we no longer live in caves. A mom is especially vulnerable in the early weeks after having a baby, and she needs a buffer and a safe space that you as her partner can provide.
Be the director of public relations
Dad’s role in breastfeeding becomes very important when it’s time to field the phone calls and manage visitors. Friends and family mean well, but they unknowingly can become a massive stress for a new mom. Visitors require her to spend time socialising when she actually needs to be resting and adapting to her new baby.
She also needs to feed on demand and get breastfeeding established. This is challenging if she is tired, or still struggling with latching. It will be even more difficult with guests in the sitting room.
Arrange visitors to come in groups at set times that suit you and your partner. And be the one to cut things short when necessary.
Physical and domestic support
Your partner needs a pair of hands as feeding a baby leaves her fairly incapacitated. Be on standby to fetch her a glass of water, pick up an item that fell onto the floor or to fetch a burp cloth. She also needs help with household tasks and to prepare meals. You will be left alone with walking the dogs or buying groceries. This part of fatherhood is not glamorous, but without it mom can’t do all she needs to do.
Without her partner’s emotional support and back-up most moms would not persevere with breastfeeding. In the early weeks breastfeeding can be challenging. From coping with sore nipples to getting feeding patterns established, from figuring out feeding in public to filtering through all the unwanted advice breastfeeding moms receive. She needs to adapt to even more body changes, and suddenly there is a baby in your bed for both of you to get used to. The list is long.
This I am saying as a wife and a mother. She really needs you to back her choices, and to not get irritated and impatient when things are tough. Because if you do you become part of the problem, at least in her head. This will not only make breastfeeding more difficult, but will lead to her feeling alone and eventually resentful towards you. And these are not good emotions to have in an already challenging time in a relationship.
Don’t underestimate how important this role is in both the short and the longer term of your journey as parents and as partners.
A little bit of space
Most fathers will have days where they feel a bit neglected and left out. A breastfeeding mom especially can feel quite ‘touched-out’ at the end of a long day. Be patient with this and give her 30 minutes to just take a bath, or have a quiet cup of tea. This short gap will help her to recharge and will ensure that you get to spend time together as a couple as well.
One sleep-in morning a week
Most breastfed babies need to feed at night, and constant lack of sleep has a massive influence on a mother. Allow her to sleep a bit later one weekend morning by taking baby and disappearing. In the early weeks this may be only an extra 20 minutes, which will become longer as baby grows older. But it will become something that helps her to survive this time.
Do you still feel worthless regarding the dad’s role in breastfeeding? I hope not, because as I am writing this blog I realised again that fathers actually need super powers. It is not an easy task!
Know this, this phase won’t last forever. In the bigger scheme, these few months of making sacrifices will fade in the significance and you will reap the rewards for many years to come.