By Colin Bennett of Holy Sh*t I’m A Dad
So, the mom of your child decided to give breastfeeding a go. Congratulations!
Breastfeeding is obviously a great thing for mom and baby, when it works. But just because breastfeeding doesn’t actively involve you doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods.
Like everything in parenting, this is a two-player game.
A quick caveat: I did not talk to my wife about this at all before writing it. This was probably a bad idea.
A Note on Boobs
I’ll level with you guys—I was never much of a boob guy to begin with. I bring this up only because it was helpful for me in the transition of my worldview from “boobs are fun things on my wife’s body” to “holy shit, boobs are the reason my son is alive.”
Make no mistake—boobs were not made for your enjoyment. They exist for the purpose of feeding children. Get right with that as soon as you can. As a new dad, you are going to see your partner’s boobs a lot, and for very different reasons than you used to. If you have friends with new children, you’re likely going to see a few extra boobs here and there.
THEY ARE NOT FOR YOU.
I emphasize the point because we are engineered to believe they are. Women cover them most of their lives, and men ogle at them because we’re dumb-dumbs. This makes breastfeeding uncomfortable for a lot of women. So play it smart.
Do not, under any circumstances, say things like, “I’m so jealous (he/she) gets to touch your boobs all the time” or “Your boobs look great, too bad I can’t play with them anymore.” Don’t even approach saying shit like that, at least in the beginning. First off, it’s weird. Your kid is trying to latch on to your wife’s nipple and you’re talking about sex play. READ THE ROOM. Secondly, your partner’s breasts are probably pretty worn out from all the tugging, shifting, suckling, and milk expression that’s going on. There’s a 90% chance she doesn’t want you within 50 feet of those things.
There will be a time when you can go back to all the fun boob-related things you like. But that’s her call, not yours.
Oh, and if an errant nipple from a mom-friend wanders into your field of vision during a breastfeeding session: don’t stare (OBVIOUSLY), but don’t make a huge dramatic production out of it. Just look away, or excuse yourself.
It can be difficult to act like anything other than a 14-year-old in the presence of exposed boobies, but do your level best to act like an adult. It goes a long way to making it easier.
When my son was born, his body didn’t regulate his blood sugar. He was sluggish and wanted no part of the breastfeeding routine. He had to do a lot of bottle feeding and supplementing with formula. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. The best kind of food for a baby is the kind he’ll eat.
But it is difficult for mothers who have a goal to breastfeed. And if breastfeeding is the goal for the mother of your child – she will run into difficulties. You’re going to need to help balance the ambition and reality of the situation.
Sometimes it’s as simple as helping stimulate the baby’s jaw while she’s feeding (mom’s hands can often be full while breastfeeding), or reminding her that she’s doing an incredible job (she is, by the way). Sometimes it’s taking the effort to wash and set up her pumping gear for her so she doesn’t have to do the extra work.
And sometimes, it’s gently reminding her that it’s okay for your son or daughter to have some formula or a bottle if things aren’t going well. This doesn’t always go over well – so expect some hand-wringing from time to time. Breastfeeding is regarded as the gold-standard for motherhood, and it’s quite a blow to some moms when it doesn’t work out. But a roadblock here and there isn’t the end of the journey for them, and it doesn’t hurt to tell them they’re still a great mom regardless.
And, if you really want to be a big help, take a feeding or two off her hands if the baby needs a bottle. Pumping and feeding and putting bottles together can be exhausting.
Breastfeeding in Public
Your kid’s gotta eat. Sometimes, she’ll have to eat in public. This is not as big of a deal as anyone would have you believe. My wife has been breastfeeding in public for nigh on eight months now without any incident.
The times, they are-a changin’.
Still, this doesn’t mean that whipping out a boob and giving your daughter a meal is easy. It can be a harrowing moment the first time your partner needs to feed her in a public place. It’s your job to make it not a big deal.
Sit next to her, or across from her, and remind her that this is the way kids ate for a vast majority of human existence. Remind her that people are far less observant than we give them credit for. Talk about all the stuff you need to get from Old Navy later, or what to do about dinner.
Just don’t make it a big deal. Breastfeeding is easier when everyone’s relaxed.
If anyone DOES come up and make a comment about it, don’t make a big scene. Just remind them that there’s nothing wrong with it and the person is under no obligation to watch your child eat. You can come up with a bunch more witty and cutting remarks on the drive home, where your wife and child don’t have to be party to someone causing a scene.
Just in case, this site can tell you the specific breastfeeding laws in your state. It’s—what’s the word?—fucking batshit that you will probably have to remind people that your wife has a legal right to feed her child, but having this in your back pocket can be helpful if and when the situation arises.
That’s pretty much the basics of breastfeeding from one dad to another. It is in no way comprehensive, and will probably not look anything like your situation—welcome to parenthood. Remember that while the breastfeeding relationship exists solely between the mom and child, it doesn’t mean you’re absolved from any help. Babies get along better when mom is comfortable and relaxed. Helping her get into and maintain that space is the best thing you can do.
This post was originally published on Holy Sh*t I’m A Dad.
About the Author
Colin Bennett is a freelance writer and stay-at-home dad. He is the author of Holy Sh*t I’m A Dad, found at hsiad.wordpress.com. He’s 30 years old, and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a wife that’s out of his league and a 9 month old boy.