I’m writing today from the perspective of a dad/husband who has supported his wife and son through their breastfeeding journey.
It seems funny to me that something as natural as breastfeeding requires so much discussion. Without it, the human race would not be here today. However, it is a skill that requires knowledge and some instruction, and since society has changed from large family units living together, breastfeeding classes and support groups can be a big help.
I attended a class with my wife, and I encourage men to do this, as it helps you to help her. Breastfeeding is inherently the personal choice of the new mother because men cannot do it. Women are influenced by society, her work, her partner and family. While the health and nutritional benefits are very well documented and beyond debate, it goes so much beyond that. A mother’s heart must be in it first. The role of the dad, then, is to support her as much as he can to help make breastfeeding as successful as possible.
Our baby was a “hole in one,” conceived the first month after the reversal of my 10-year-old vasectomy. This baby is my third child, and my wife’s first. We called him Peanut until he was born, keeping his chosen name a secret. He has been such a blessing to us.
He latched on to nurse from mom with gusto from the start. Clearly this was what we as humans are meant to do. It took four days for her milk to come in, and while he seemed satisfied, he was dropping a little weight. My wife was offered donor breast milk for him at that time. It took so little—only about 1.5 ounces--until she could supply all he needed and then some. That moment can be a common time for mothers to resort to formula out of a perceived convenience and the need to feed their new baby. But his mom’s milk came in fully only hours later.
Over the coming months, she was so happy to return the favor of the “liquid gold” to the Indiana Mothers’ Milk Bank. She donated about 300 ounces. These donations can be especially beneficial to tiny babies in the NICU.
Watching my wife and son bond through breastfeeding has been very special. I have never felt uneasy or embarrassed for them to do this most natural of acts. We did stay home more at first because it was easier for her to breastfeed at home with the frequency a newborn needs to be fed. We were fortunate that my wife was able to stay home from work for 8 weeks full time, and 4 more weeks part time. Eventually she did return to work and she worked out the process for pumping and storing milk for him to drink at daycare. The daycare is also onsite, which allowed her to nurse him at lunchtime most days. This was a good break in the day for her, and more time to be with him.
Pumping is another commitment for the mother. The least the father can do is keep the bottles and pump parts clean and ready for her. This is nothing out of the ordinary, as bottles need to be cleaned if you pump milk or feed formula. You just have fewer bottles to clean and prepare if breastfeeding, since the baby nurses when he/she is with mom. Either way, it’s a commitment for both parents, especially when both work full time. The father needs to support in every way possible, such as in cooking meals (mom needs good nutrition when nursing), and doing more around house (cleaning, laundry, etc.)
I hear that some men feel left out or neglected during this time. They need to keep in mind how important this is to both mother and baby. The wife they married is different now. She is the mother of their child. But she is also still your companion, friend and lover. You as the father, can enjoy being a part of this time because it will not be forever. Be patient! Your intimate life will return before you know it and be as good or better than ever. Breastfeeding does not stop this.
We have been lucky to have a robust healthy baby to start with. I think breast milk has been a big part in keeping him that way. No ear infections, and he’s 17 months old as of the writing of this article. He did not require any antibiotics until almost 14 months old, for a sinus infection. This is good, especially for a baby who’s been in daycare. We’ve had to use very little paid time off to stay home with a sick baby.
There are other benefits. We believe breastfeeding is more economical. Have you checked the cost of formula lately? Also, for you guys with weak stomachs…dirty diapers from breastfed babies don’t stink as much as dirty diapers from formula. (Although when solid food starts, all bets are off!)
Our baby has gone from a cuddly warm bundle learning to latch on to an outgoing , happy 17-month-old that can sign and ask for his mom to nurse him (She taught him a more discreet symbol/word so what he’s asking for isn’t obvious to everyone). No more special holds or positions needed. I think he could nurse hanging from the ceiling fan if he wanted to. We are not sure when he will wean on his own--no sign of it yet. It is still good for him but is less needed for primary nutrition--more for comfort, to reconnect with his mom after they’ve been apart, and to settle down to bed at night.