Dads and Breastfeeding - You Can Help!

"Great Dads aren't born... They learn over time."
- "Mr. Dad" Armin Brott, author and parenting specialist

Most expectant fathers know that breastfeeding is the best way to feed a baby. Breast milk contains the perfect blend of nutrients, and breastfed babies enjoy a host of benefits — from a reduced risk for obesity and allergies to increased intelligence.

Plus, breastfeeding is free, requires no preparation or cleanup, and is a great way for a mother to bond with her baby. And breastfed babies' poop smells a lot better than the stuff produced by formula-fed babies.

Even so, a lot of new fathers find their feelings about breastfeeding change after the baby comes. It's not that dads don't support breastfeeding and its benefits — it's just that the whole experience makes them feel a little left out.

Coping with feelings of inadequacy

"Breastfeeding continues the exclusive relationship the mother and infant experienced during pregnancy," says Pamela Jordan, an associate professor in the Department of Family and Child Nursing at the University of Washington. (Jordan is one of the few researchers to explore the effects of breastfeeding on men.) For dads of breastfed babies, it's common to feel some or all of the following:

  • Worry that you'll have a harder time bonding and developing a relationship with your baby than your partner will
  • A sense of inadequacy, thinking that nothing you do for your child could ever compare to your partner's contribution
  • Resentment of the baby who has physically "come between" you and your partner
  • Belief that because women breastfeed, they have knowledge and skills that automatically make them better parents

Five ways to make breastfeeding better for everyone

There's no doubt about it: Feeding is one of the most important aspects of caring for an infant. And that means that if your partner is breastfeeding, you may be at a bit of a disadvantage.

But you don't have to back off just because she's got the food supply taken care of. Studies show that the more supportive their partners are, the longer women breastfeed and the more confident they feel about their ability to do so.

So as strange as it may sound, dads have a very important role to play in breastfeeding. Here are a few specific ways you can help:

  • Be supportive and thoughtful. Breastfeeding is hard work, so take on your partner's chores and help out whenever you can. When she's breastfeeding, bring her a pillow or a glass of water (nursing moms need lots of water!), or offer to burp your baby when he's done eating.
  • Make sure to get a lot of skin-to-skin contact with your baby. Cuddling, bathing, and reading in a chair while your baby naps on your chest are all great relationship builders. And they'll give you and your little one a chance to bond in similar ways to the physical closeness breastfeeding brings.
  • Bottle-feed your baby with breast milk. If expressing milk manually or with a pump works for Mom, you can introduce your baby to a bottle and start taking over at feeding times. (Before you start bottle-feeding, wait until breastfeeding is well established and your baby is 3 or 4 weeks old. You want to give your baby a chance to get completely comfortable with nursing on a real breast first.)
  • Try not to take it personally if your baby seems less than interested in taking a bottle from you at first. Plastic nipples, like real ones, come in all shapes and sizes. So you may have to do a little experimenting before you and your baby discover the kind he likes best.
  • Be patient if your partner seems less interested in sex than in pre-baby days. [Nursing women are exhausted and have lower amounts of estrogen which can lower sex drive or make intercourse uncomfortable. Your partner will let you know when she is ready, until then demonstrate your love and patience.]

Although many of us tend to think of the breastfeeding relationship as purely a mother and child thing, dads are actually essential to a successful breastfeeding experience. Dads do need to be a part of the experience, but the physical act of placing food into the baby's mouth is not an essential part of the daddy/baby relationship. Dad can sit with mom and baby during feedings, making eye contact with baby, stroking baby's skin, talking softly to baby, etc. Each couple will learn, grow, and reach their own compromises as they make this journey together.

 

 

This is general information and does not replace the advice of your physician or healthcare provider. If you have a problem you cannot solve quickly, seek help right away. Every baby is different, and your baby may not be average. If in doubt, contact your physician or other healthcare provider.

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