Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Breastfeeding Father


We’ve got it easy. Pigeon and dove fathers produce crop milk; a substance with more fat and protein than human or cow milk. The father feeds it to the baby through regurgitation. Later on, the father chews up seeds, worms, and insects, mixes the bolus with the milk and feeds the rather eccentric smoothie to the baby. Protecting his young consumes whatever energies the father has left after this draining feeding process.

As much as I love my daughter (or, perhaps, because I do), I shudder at the thought of chewing up food, mixing it with a special bile, and regurgitating it into her mouth. I’m glad it’s not the role of the human father; but, if it were the most effective and nutritious way of feeding my children, I’d do it.

Although the process might not be so involved, I think that human fathers have just as vital a role in breastfeeding as do these avian fathers. Most people see breastfeeding as something that exists between a mother and her child; but I see it as something that involves the entire family. The breastfeeding father plays a crucial role in the life of their child.

When my wife became pregnant, we agreed to try breastfeeding. The first thing we learned about it is best summed up by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back (though, I believe, he was discussing a different subject): “Do or do not. There is no try.” Breastfeeding was the most difficult task that we could imagine undertaking. Several times more difficult than the birth.

Breastfeeding is not so difficult for everyone. We just had the fortune to encounter almost every imaginable problem that a breastfeeding family can be faced with. Mastitis, plugged ducts, engorgement, thrush—every week it was a new obstacle to overcome. We read books on breastfeeding cover-to-cover, we talked to doctors, lactation consultants, La Leche League members, we read textbooks on the subject, scoured the internet—we did everything we could to get the feeding on the road. I made midnight trips to drugstores looking for nipple shields (to help with overactive letdown); read up on and bought the most economically effective breast pump (to help with engorgement); I bought a mixed grill of breast pads, ointments, balms, lanolin, Soothies, and many more products that required me to mention the condition of my wife’s breasts to the bashful faces of pharmacists all over the city. It was a solid six weeks until breastfeeding was a consistently comfortable process for mother and child.

All along, I had to be the foundation. I had to be the stable one. I wasn’t allowed to breakdown in tears or give up, or reach for one of the ubiquitous canisters of formula lying in various places around the house—the ones that are mailed to you everyday just from giving your address to one single maternity store. All it would have taken to make the whole project come crashing down would be a small chink in my armor. One moment of hesitation, and I could negatively affect my wife’s post-partum, tired, and fed-up will to do the best thing for our baby.

Many fathers feel that they have to feed their child with a bottle in order to bond with them. I don’t understand that. My presence and assistance during the initial weeks of breastfeeding brought me closer to mother and child than I ever thought possible. Not only that, but it was actually an advantage that I had no way of feeding the baby—and it remains so.

She never looks to me for nursing. When she is in my arms, she knows that comfort is going to have to come from somewhere other than a boob. This makes it much easier for me to put her to sleep at night. Babies tend to respond to the tenor of a calm father’s voice in a much more soothing manor than the alto or soprano mother. And without the option of a breast, she is much more ready to take alternative forms of comfort.

In the first 12 months of breastfeeding our child, there were other, more social challenges to overcome. I always say that if you’ve met my wife, and stuck around for a little while, you’ve seen her boobs. Her breasts (which weathered the journey from almost B to DD very well) are no longer for my eyes only. They’ve made appearances at restaurants, malls, Disneyland, and sidewalks everywhere.

When we moved to Ausin, we found it to be a very breastfeeding-friendly place. For the first nine months, we were living in Waco. There was a tendency there to treat a mother breastfeeding in public as a spectacle, a disgrace, or a peepshow. In Austin, people treat her like a human. They talk to her without staring, and if they look away, they don’t do it as if they’ve just seen something revolting.

We couldn’t be happier with breastfeeding. Our daughters rarely catch cold. They haven't had any ear infections, constipation, or colic. I can’t begin to calculate all the money we’ve saved. Those free bottles that you get in the mail are just to get you hooked. Later, it turns out, you have to pay for them. The formula companies act like they’re run by school-yard drug dealers.

But the challenges keep coming. When our first daughter was six months old, we found out that we were pregnant again (note, breastfeeding is not an effective means of birth control). Nursing through a pregnancy was the hardest challenge we had faced. Many people, including doctors and nurses, still believe the old wives’ tale that you can’t nurse through a pregnancy. It’s hard to. It’s painful. There’s less milk. But it can, and should be done.

Tandem nursing was even more of a challenge. There's not a lot written about the subject, and while that is a separate post altogether, it's worth noting that we did it. Together. The reward of seeing the two girls together, stroking each other's heads while nursing was enough to keep things going. After a long two years, though, the nursing stopped. The girls didn't ask for it at bedtime a few nights in a row. And, finally, when they did ask, there was no more to give.

After a few deep breathes, and the first bra that my wife has worn in almost four years that didn't have little plastic quick-release tabs, we're ready to face the unknown again. Every baby feeds differently, and who knows how difficult this next one will be?



Back to the Carnival of Breastfeeding.

31 comments:

Christy said...

What a blessing you are to your wife. I agree that dad's are a vital role in the breastfeeding relationship. I am lucky that my husband and entire family for that matter was very supportive and helpful in making sure we had a successful nursing relationship for as long as we desired (22 months).

Isil Simsek said...

You got me teary eyed.We don't usually stumble upon breastfeeding fathers' thoughts, do we?
It is great that you are/were so supportive, especially in those hectic early weeks.

sineadhoben said...

What a lovely post. It's so nice to get a father's perspective on breastfeeding. Like you, my husband was a wonderful source of support for me and this kept me going through the painful times too! I also went through all the things your wife suffered and having my husband reassure me that I was doing a great job kept my spirits up!

Thanks so much for sharing your story...

Maria said...

Thanks for this wonderful post. I wish more husbands/fathers would be as encouraging and supportive as you obviously have been to your wife!

Katie said...

Like you, my husband has been ubber supportive, compassionate and understanding through our highs and lows of nursing. I love that you wrote about breastfeeding involving the entire family- how TRUE! Breastfeeding moms and dads are awesome! Thank you for sharing your story...

Amanda said...

What a blessing you are to your wife. I too am so thankful (and know without him, I never would have continued) for my husband's support and encouragement during our 3 breastfeeding. I have been pregnant and/or breastfeeding for 4 years. There were many nights through post-partum frustration tears that I just wanted to give up, and he was encouraging and supportive, he's the reason I didn't.

half pint pixie said...

It sounds like you're a fantastic support to your wife.

We also got by on Yoda's wisdom. Nobody here says they're going to breastfeed, they all say they'll give it a try. We decided that there was no "try"!

Like your wife, I had a hard first six weeks, but it was made easier by having great hubby support. It makes a world of difference to have a partner who really understands and supports you, I've seen women stop feeding to make their partners happy and that makes me sad.

Well done :)

Heather said...

What a great post! I, too, have a very supportive hubby! I'll be sharing this link with him so he can read your story.

Thanks for sharing!

Barbara said...

Your post is call to action for fathers and fathers-to-be. The idea of you being the foundation is a great one. I definitely felt adrift at times in the first while after delivering my baby and I needed my husband to be rock solid. Thank goodness he was.

hobo mama said...

You put it just right. I know firsthand that a husband's support is what makes it all possible (or, at least, much, much easier), particularly in those early days when we felt like an octopus with feeding tubes and pumped milk until the easy bfing relationship got going.

I think this applies to birth as well -- I told my husband ahead of time that he had to be my rock, the person who never let up in encouraging me. Because if I could see his doubt, I might start doubting myself. You're right on, and kudos to you for being so supportive! It's wonderful to have a husband like that, calm and confident and a true parent.

James Austin said...

Yes, breastfeeding was the hardest and the best thing my husband and I have ever done after our son was born. And, I couldn't have done it without his support and direct involvement. Now that I am back to work (and our son is 8 months old), we have a new phase of breastfeeding we never expected - extra lipase in my milk that makes it go sour when it's frozen or refridgerated. My milk must be scalded on the stovetop before freezing it. We had to throw out our frozen stash, which almost made me cry. My husband is so supportive - he scalds and freezes the milk when I come home and make sure it makes it to day care. We believe our son's excellent health is primarily because we never went the formula route!
Mrs. LIAYF (posting from husband Jim's account)

Nick Jackson said...

I like your comment about it being easier for the Dad to put your daughter to bed than your wife because she knows you aren't going to nurse her. We've been trying to work out why I'm so good at getting her to sleep and I think you've hit on the reason - my wife just offers too many distractions!

Adam said...

My wife's aunt is a militant lactation consultant so the formula route was never really an option for us.

I guess I never thought about my role in the whole deal. I assumed she would take care of it and that would be that.

Thanks for the tips.

Justin Morring said...

I'm a single dad, my wife died during child birth. It was a very sad situation as I wished myslef that I could breastfeed our twin boys. I'm very envious that you were able to handle this situation with such dignity and care for both your girls and wife.

Blessings!

Bree said...

Thanks for that post. As another "breastfeeding dad", I feel like you were speaking for all of us. Different scenarios, but from the same place in the heart.

dd said...

There's surprisingly very little help for a lot of the issues you mentioned. We've seen far too many LCs for our problems - not as many as yours in six weeks, but we're racking them up.

36D said...

What a lovely blog! I hope you don't mind if I link to it from my group?

Sol Smith said...

By all means, 36D, link away! Keep the links coming!

36D said...

Sol- if you want to read the comments they're at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Dispelling-Breastfeeding-Myths/103045073084559?ref=sgm

Anonymous said...

I am about to give birth any day now. I breastfed my son for 4 months. Throughout that time, at all hours day and night, my husband would say, 'you are starving him' as I struggled to produce enough. I had thrush and sores and a lot of pain. Í have tried to explain to him the impact of his statements on my ability to produce milk, even after the sores had gone. But he won't hear it. He does not believe in the mind body connection when it comes to this- help! How can I make him understand I can't deal with the negative energy again- it is setting me up for failure!

Sol Smith said...

Anon-

Luckily, every breastfeeding relationship is different with your kids--you may have much better luck with this one.

In our experience, 3 or 4 months was usually the time when things finally got easier, and I'm sorry that you didn't crest that in your first experience. I'm not a certified expert, but we made sure that the instant that there was in infection, my wife got on antibiotics. The instant that the antibiotics caused thrush, she got on acidopholous (sp?). This required my cooperation and the cooperation of a good, trustworthy, breastfeeding friendly doctor.

Far be it for me to tell you how to handle your relationship with your husband in this difficult arena, but there is other support out there. For one, you can find your local La Leche League. We have had some great groups and some not-so-great ones, but all in all the LLL tries to support breastfeeding.

There are a few breastfeeding groups online that can help, as well. My wife is a breastfeeding mentor on LiveJournal. I'll have to get her to post a link to the breastfeeding community on that site, as it totally escapes me right this instant.

Do you have "The Motherly Art of Breastfeeding?" That was a wonderful resource for us.

There are several tricks of the trade that can really help out. If you're getting mastitis because your production is too much and your baby can't latch on, we found that putting cabbage leaves on the breasts between feedings can really help slow things down a little. But be careful! It can really dry you up, too. With our first baby, who really had trouble nursing, we had to use nipple shields for a while. We got them at Target and they didn't cost much, but have to be constantly cleaned. It was tough to get her "off" of them, but it was worth it because it got us over a terrible hump.

Other than that, you should really try to clue your husband into the idea that this is a team thing. That negativity can actually affect your production and your ability to feed. Tell him how much you need his support and how much your baby needs his support. You won't starve your baby. You really, really won't, unless you're a very, very rare case. Don't worry too much about doctors and what they say about how much on how many sides and how often.

It's tough. It's really not easy. Just revisiting this post (which was the first I ever made on this site) reminds me of what a hard time we had with our first one. But we had a wonderful support network and I have a wonderfully stubborn wife.

Good luck, let me know if there's anything else that I can do.

The Lazy Mama said...

Very very nice post! I am a big breastfeeding advocate I have been breastfeeding my baby for almost 3 years now (he will be 3yrs old in May) and just like you are to your wife I am so lucky that I do have a very supportive husband too. As my husband always says whenever we see fathers/mothers at the mall or wherever with a very very big bag and always holding a feeding bottle; he always smiles at me and says "boy am I so lucky as we don't have to bring a lot of those bottles and even luckier that we don't need to wash any of those.". Thats why I say to you sir, that you are indeed lucky and your wife even luckier for having you as her husband!

Sharon said...

Hi Sol and family
One of my parent testers pointed me towards your blog ad I love it so much I have decided to post it on my forthcoming newsletter so that other dads can benefit from your wisdom surrounding the subject of breastfeeding ad all things parenting...
Good luck with baby number three and check out the TIPS newsletters (you will be featured in issue 24) at:http://www.tipslimited.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=51&Itemid=215

Sharon said...

As promised your feature has been added to the TIPS newsletter and posted on fb at:http://www.facebook.com/pages/TIPS-Ltd/144216465639185

Savtah (grandmother) said...

With regard to the husband who is so unsupportive: My third son (in less than five years had meningitis when he was three months old. It happened in an instant. My pediatrician recognized the symptoms over the phone and sent us immediately to the local children's hospital. She warned me that they would want me to stop breastfeeding so they could measure how much fluid when in to him and out (by weighing his diapers). She told me to vehemently object and to use her name. Meningitis is 90% fatal in 6 days if untreated and the rest have all kinds of things like deafness. My father had a brother who died of it at age 7 (in 1913) so you can imagine my panic. Long story short -Because of my pediatricians quick diagnosis and b/c of my antibodies though breastfeeding him, he will celebrate is 30th (years, not months)birthday at the end of February. He is totally fine. Needless to say, I am a BIG advocate of breastfeeding. To me, it is as important as the carseat!

Tim said...

dude. humble suggestion: forward this post IMMEDIATELY to artofmanliness.com. the readership there craves examples of devoted husbands such as yourself and would likely have it viral in hours

you are a lucky guy to have a wife who trusts you with this stuff. and she's lucky to have a man so committed to her health and happiness, as well as those of your family.

i admit to being curious...how much of the breastfeeding/lactation/support expectation discussion did you have through the pregnancy? or did it evolve organically as complications arose? who was your example for the tremendously awesome behavior you have now modeled for others?

i'm pdf'ing this immediately for later reference when, God willing, i have a brood of my own to consider.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for supporting and encouraging your wife to nurse your children. I was blessed with four precious daughters and nursed them in spite of the fact that at that time everyone else, or so it seemed at the time, were bottle feeding their youngsters.Now my daughters nurse their little ones and I am very proud to see that family tradition continue on. God bless you as you cont. to be an Awesome DAD!!!!

Elizabeth said...

Wonderful blog. Congrats to you and your family; the love shows through each word.

Anonymous said...

i live in copperas cove...not far from waco...i full feel what you said how bfing moms are treated here. we want to move to austin so much. I do disaree w what you said about bfing as a form or birth control. It is very effective more so then the pill. but like anything isnt not 100%.

Anonymous said...

You are such an inspiration! You should go around schools teaching high school and junior high boys how to be the father of an infant.

danielle joli said...

Wow! What an awesome post! You sir are a great man for never giving up on your wife when she needed that support. It's truely rewarding and amazing! I have a 4 month old and breastfeed and formula feed due to insufficient glandular tissue. Boy oh boy what a struggle I have with it. I never intended on letting my daughter consume formula but after a week and 10% weight gone I knew something was wrong. It took a month before soneone FINALLY diagnosed and I had to be the one to ask! So disappointing that noone could have advised or asked me before. I battled a spout of depression and felt inadequate as a mother.
If it were not for her father supporting me and helping me, I'd have thrown the towel in long ago! I had family telling me to give up, that I don't make enough. That really didn't help me feel any better. Because of my best friend, my child's father, I continued!
Now we are 4 months later and I still breastfeed, pump and bottlefeed because I know that no matter what, some is still better than none