Dear Breastfeeding Dads,
Let me first say CONGRATULATIONS!!! Fatherhood is such an amazing and beautiful thing! As I have watched my husband’s relationship with our two children develop I am in complete awe of the father-child dynamics.
Now, let’s get down to business. I am writing this letter to you NOT because I’ve discovered a new way for dads to breastfeed. I WISH! Instead, I am writing because I genuinely want to help you get through the challenging yet rewarding journey that is breastfeeding. I know you’re thinking, wrong recipient, this one is meant for mom but nope…YOU are an important piece of the breastfeeding puzzle.
I am ecstatic (and you should be as well) that your wife has decided to breastfeed. It is truly the best choice for baby and a huge cost savings (~$1700 the 1st year) as well. It is a tremendous sacrifice that until you experience it, you never truly understand. And in all honesty it is a FAMILY commitment. Just another early reminder that your life has changed forever with the birth of your baby. But the benefits are well worth it. I pray that she sticks with it and I hope that this letter provides some just in time support so you can in turn support her.
All too often I hear new moms express guilt over breastfeeding because dad isn’t supportive or has expressed that he feels left out or isn’t able to bond with baby. As if there aren’t a million other things to worry about when trying to breastfeed. The first thing I will say is MAN UP! Your wife is the only one with the raging hormones and a human that was either pushed out or cut out of a space less than half its size. You sir are going to have to fall in line and park your complaints somewhere they can’t be seen or heard. Your wife NEEDS your unwavering support right now. Anything less than that adds unnecessary stress. Secondly, there is enough bonding and things to do for everybody to get a piece of the new baby action. Just you wait and see.
An immediate must is to EDUCATE yourself. Gain a basic understanding of breastfeeding. Some dads opt to attend a breastfeeding class with their wife. FYI we find that quite impressive. You automatically get 10 bonus points for this show of solidarity. Others prefer reading their way to awesomeness. For that, I suggest Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding. A few reliable internet searches could also do the trick. It’s important to separate myth vs. fact so that you can be a supportive partner. In the meantime, know this: breastfeeding works on supply and demand. The more baby is able to nurse the faster the milk supply is established. For this reason, it is BEST and PREFERRED to NOT introduce bottles until at least 6-8 weeks. This also reduces the chance that your baby will be confused between bottle and breast.* Breastfed babies eat often because breast milk digests easier than formula. This does NOT mean your baby is in a constant state of starvation. EDUCATED DADDY can help mom avoid these early pitfalls and misconceptions which will ensure that breastfeeding gets off to a good start.
Once you’ve been properly educated I want you to know that there are plenty of ways for you to bond with baby. Babies love skin to skin contact. Once baby is fed you can be his/her favorite SNUGGLE DADDY. Get comfy and inhale that new baby smell until you’re high as a kite. There will also be ample opportunity to change diapers. If you haven’t already noticed, you will soon see, that babies are masters at peeing and pooping. Trust me, mom won’t mind you taking the lead in that area at all. There is also plenty burping, soothing, bathing and changing clothes for you to never be bored. Don’t be shy. Jump right in and have your daddy-baby bonding moments.
After you’ve done all that, you can be a tremendous help to your wife by transforming into SNACK DADDY! Snack daddy ensures that mom is eating and drinking as she should. A breastfeeding mom burns nearly 500 calories a day. And every mom can attest to the fact that the first thing that falls to the wayside when bringing home a new baby is eating. Here is your chance to be a major hero. Be on the ready to meet all her eating needs with tasty meals and snacks. And don’t forget the water. To produce that liquid gold (milk) a mom needs proper nutrition and sufficient hydration. Middle of the night feedings will really present an opportunity for you to get involved. An exhausted mom will appreciate you getting up and changing the baby so she can then take over with nursing and get back to sleep. Please know that it is not uncommon for your wife to be famished at 3AM. Snack daddy should once again be ready on the double.
In closing, know that there will be days that your wife is ecstatic about the success she is having with breastfeeding. There will also be days when she is completely stressed out and ready to give up. Do the best that you can to be reassuring. Remind her to take one nursing session at a time. If you can recall any tips/tricks from your breastfeeding education offer them up. If not, be ready to call in reinforcements like the lactation consultant, a former breastfeeding friend, La Leche League, etc. Just be a part of the solution and NOT the problem.
DON’T be the dad that constantly pushes to bottle feed baby. There will be plenty of time for that.
DON’T be the dad that assumes every cry signals hunger. Babies cry for a myriad of reason. It gets quite annoying to hear someone constantly suggest that it’s because the baby is hungry as if mom isn’t feeding enough or nursing correctly.
DON’T be the dad that assumes that breastfeeding means he doesn’t have to help out or isn’t needed. There is not an automatic opt out because your wife decides to breastfeed. Pitch in in other ways.
DON’T be the dad that suggests formula at every bump in the road. Trust me it is always in the back of a breastfeeding moms mind that she could easily give formula. She is keenly aware. And others will also remind her.
DON’T be the dad that is jealous of baby’s relationship with the boobies. I know you never imagined another person could love the breasts as much as you could. But for now you’ve been one up-ed.
DON’T be the dad that prefers that breastfeeding be done in private. Breastfeeding is becoming more mainstream but there is still a great deal of social stigma out there. Don’t add to the shame that is really your own insecurities or body image issues. Breasts were meant for feeding. A mother is already isolated and given that she will nurse several times a day expecting her to stay at home where she can nurse in private is simply cruel.
DO be the dad that is supportive and encouraging! Be her buffer against other naysayers. Help her find solutions to breastfeeding challenges so she doesn’t feel alone in the journey. Ask your wife how she would like you to help. Together you all will be breastfeeding pros in no time!
*there are medical reasons that may necessitate introducing a bottle before 8wks. follow doctors orders. likewise there are plenty of babies that have no issues alternating between breast and bottle at earlier stages. every baby is unique. this post simply presents the accepted standards.