Breastfeeding is often thought to be a process between mother and baby. However, many are realising that fathers play an important role in this as well. As a key figure in the family unit, fathers can and should support their spouse in breastfeeding through tangible actions. And this involvement can affect whether a mother chooses to breastfeed her baby and for how long.
Mothers should not be doing it alone
Women are endowed with breasts to provide for their babies in the most natural way. When a woman’s body fulfills the primary purpose that nature has intended for it, the body is much better off. As research supports, women who nursed have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who never breastfeed.
But that’s not all. Babies who nurse are found to be able to fight off viruses and bacteria better, because breast milk contains antibodies. In some studies, breastfeeding has been associated with higher IQ. Even though a mother is the giver of breast milk, it would be inaccurate to think that it is solely a mother’s responsibility to breastfeed a baby.
Unbeknown to many dads-to-be, many mums feel pressured to breastfeed their newborns. Many admit to feeling judged if they are unable to breastfeed their newborns. The inability to nurse their babies in some instances makes them feel inadequate. It is as if they have failed their babies.
The pressure of nursing a baby, coupled with sleep deprivation and the stresses of coping with a newborn in the first few weeks can set mothers in depression. When these new responsibilities become too overwhelming, mothers can begin to develop suicidal thoughts.
How can dads chip in?
Even before a baby is born, mums and dads should sit down to discuss the topic of breastfeeding. If a mum is open to the idea of breastfeeding, her spouse should be supportive. Even though the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for two years and beyond, many mothers may prefer to nurse for a shorter period if she already has plans to return to work.
Deep and meaningful discussions allow new parents to set joint breastfeeding goals. For many new mums, breastfeeding is a new experience. Having a encouraging partner from the very beginning can make the breastfeeding journey a more gratifying one.
Dads can start by
For a start, dads-to-be can play an active role in reading up about breastfeeding. He can read about this topic from both the dad’s and mum’s perspective and share these nuggets of wisdom with his partner. New parents can also watch videos on breastfeeding to know what to expect when the baby arrives.
Right after the baby’s birth, fathers can immediately spring into action by say informing visitors at the hospital when the baby is nursing, so that a mum can nurse without distractions.
Since many new mums need time to ease into their duties of breastfeeding, dads can become cheerleaders who offer encouragement and affirmation during this time. When a mum is not providing enough breast milk in the initial weeks, there is a tendency for frustration and anxiety to set in. It is important during this time for dads to provide emotional support and assurance for her to press on.
Dads can ask if help is needed
Dads can also ask their partner for the type of help she needs. Such help can be in form of carrying the baby from the cot to nurse or helping to adjust the baby’s head position. Sometimes, it can also involve keeping the mum relaxed by pressing on vital acupuncture points to facilitate breastfeeding. Other times, it can be providing a listening ear.
A couple must also broach the topic of bottle-feeding. Some are open to bottle-feeding especially at night so that mums can have a good night’s rest while dads assume night duties. If so, this would mean that a mum has to express milk to be bottle-fed. In these instances, dads can step in to take on the duty of bottle-feeding the baby. It is also an opportunity to bond with the newborn.
In addition, dads can initiate to sterilise used bottles, as well as the washable components of a breast pump. Small acts like these can be very reassuring to new mums who may otherwise feel that their partner wants no part in caring for their baby.
Even though modern-day mums are capable of juggling both family and work remarkably well, it should never be an excuse for dads to take a back seat at home. Essentially, all dads have to recognise that they play an instrumental role in breastfeeding.