These Dads Support Breastfeeding!
By Kelly Burgess
Images of breastfeeding often feature a mother in soft focus, gazing down in wonder at the baby nursing contentedly at her breast. What the picture probably doesn’t show is Dad standing behind them, offering mom a pillow, fixing her a snack or waiting to take the baby back to his crib.
A father can take a more active role than he realizes in helping to keep breastfeeding successful.
Today’s fathers are more involved in raising their children, and they want the best for their kids from the very beginning. While they can’t actually nurse the babies themselves, more and more dads are realizing that helping Mom succeed helps Baby get off to the best start.
Rachel Simpson may just have the perfect husband. For Christmas last year, Jamie gave her an elegant red pair of Victoria’s Secret pajamas that button down for easy nursing. On the lapel, he attached a beautiful silver pin from La Leche League to celebrate Rachel’s first anniversary of breastfeeding. The card that accompanied the gift read: Through infections, pain, sleeplessness, pumping supply problems and some good times, too, you’ve proven your dedication and love to our son through breastfeeding—congratulations on making it to one full year, and we both thank you.
If it hadn’t been for Jamie, Rachel wouldn’t have made it to that one-year mark. Originally, they had planned for her to become a stay-at-home mother after their baby was born. When Jamie lost his job during the pregnancy and decided to return to school, Rachel returned to work much earlier than she had planned. Although she hoped to be able to continue breastfeeding, she didn’t think they were going to succeed because of the demands of her job and the recurring infections she was dealing with.
To make matters worse, Baby Owen refused all bottles—he wanted the fresh stuff. This is where Jamie stepped in. Home with the baby all day, he and Rachel would text message each other to set up what they dubbed “booby calls” so Jamie could bring Owen to Rachel’s office in order to nurse.
For a full year, Jamie brought Owen to Rachel’s work three times a day for personal nursing sessions. It wasn’t easy, but Jamie was convinced that keeping the nursing relationship going between his wife and son was the right thing to do. Even her co-workers, none of whom are mothers, embraced the family’s commitment.
“I credit Jamie with saving our breastfeeding relationship when I wanted to quit,” says Rachel Simpson. “Somewhere around my third bout of mastitis, I fell apart—at about 3:30 a.m. I cried and yelled, ‘That’s it! I quit! I just can’t do this anymore!’ But he kept saying, ‘Use your resources. Just make one phone call. Start there. I know you can do this.’ I did and we got through it all, and I’m so happy that I continued. I feel like breastfeeding is an investment in our family, and now—months after our troubles—I feel like we’re really reaping the rewards of our investment, financially, physically and emotionally. As he was my coach during our pregnancy, he was my coach during breastfeeding.”
Not a Mechanical Act
The little breastfeeding secret the Simpsons learned is that breastfeeding isn’t always sunshine, roses and soft focus. Many fathers and mothers don’t realize that breastfeeding isn’t always as easy as it looks, and sometimes it doesn’t go smoothly – or as planned.
Christopher Healy of New York, N.Y., is an unusually involved and well-informed father. A former writer for Child Magazine and author of Pop Culture: The Sane Man’s Guide to the Insane World of New Fatherhood (Penguin, 2006), he and his wife, Noelle Howey, had discussed the issue of breastfeeding while she was pregnant and knew they wanted to give it their best shot. However, they had also planned that Howey would nurse some of the time, and then pump and fill bottles so that Healy could take his turn. As it turned out, Howey wasn’t able to pump enough spare milk to fill bottles, so Healy wasn’t able to share time until the baby was old enough to occasionally have a bottle of formula.
“I guess I can relate to the feeling that some men have about being left out, because I had really been looking forward to taking turns feeding the baby,” he says. “But any negative feelings I may have had, I got over very quickly when I realized that it’s not nearly as easy to breastfeed as you would think.”
Lactation consultant Debbie Albert says that the actuality of breastfeeding can be quite a shock to new parents of both sexes. “Breastfeeding is not just a mechanical act,” she says. “It’s affected by a lot of different factors and can turn into an even greater challenge if the mother is on medication or has had a difficult birth. The father can take on an important role in helping her stick with their plan to breastfeed.”
The Helping Husband
A father can take a more active role than he realizes in helping to keep breastfeeding successful. Here are some things that Albert suggests the father can do:
- Stay informed. Learn about breastfeeding and some of the common concerns and problems.
- Act as a liaison. Know your wife’s lactation consultant or La Leche League contact. When Mom is inarticulate from illness, medications or, as happened with Rachel Simpson, snaps from stress, be the voice of reason for your wife.
- Be Mom’s arms and legs. Fix her a snack or meal. Offer to get her a pillow or run errands. Deal with the baby when she’s not nursing.
Healy usually stayed up with his wife in the middle of the night after bringing the baby to her to nurse. He said he felt it was the least he could do since she had no choice but to be awake.
Ryan Boster of Winfield, Kan., helped his wife when she had mastitis by bringing her heated towels to relieve the pressure and pain. He does whatever his wife needs him to do. “I support my wife 100 percent in her decision to breastfeed,” he says. “Both of us feel that there is no substitute for breastfeeding unless physically unable to do it.”
Andrew Mason, an expatriate American living in Japan, where breastfeeding is more common than in the United States, says that he gets up with his 11-month-old daughter in the morning and distracts her for as long as possible so his wife can get some extra sleep. “We found out at around 3 months that our baby is allergic to milk,” he says. “We would have had to go with a soy-based formula if it weren’t for my wife’s magic breasts.
The Educated Dad
For those women who don’t have supportive partners, or don’t know how supportive they’ll be when the time comes, Albert suggests that the woman do everything she can to educate her partner about the benefits of breastfeeding. She should also make sure he understands her commitment. Encourage anything he does that makes breastfeeding easier. “Think of this process as a circle of love,” Albert says. “You’re all in the circle, and it takes all three of you to make it strong.”