What’s the worst thing about becoming a dad? You lose all access to your partner’s amazeballs boobs for months! It’s like you’re being punished for impregnating them and all you can do is sit at a distance and be teased as someone else gets to suck on the boobies that used to be your fun toys.
At least the lucky person is your awesome new baby and not some creepy dude with a Magnum PI style mo, so the jealousy isn’t unbearable. But boobs are a very important element of becoming a parent that New Dads need to be ready for.
[to help dads get into the important depths of this post I’ve inserted random boobs to help stimulate… the brain]
Breastfeeding is F’ing difficult.
All of us, new dads and new mums alike, are tricked into believing that breastfeeding is so ‘natural’, ‘easy’ and ‘convenient’ by medical advertising and mass media. What a load of bollocks. Don’t misread me, it’s amazing! But it comes with a lot more pain and grief than anyone wants to let on, in fear of putting any new mums off of it. And this facade that our society and medical institutions have erected can cause too much pain, in my experience, for new mums who are already dealing with the overwhelming changes that parenthood brings.
1. Not every mum can breastfeed
There is a ridiculous amount of pressure from midwives, doctors, lactation consultants and every annoyingly-positive poster in labour wards for new mums to give breast milk to their baby. I believe that somewhere, buried underneath all of the cult-like propaganda, is a well-meaning attempt to turn society back from the pro-formula mindset that took hold last century.
Is breast milk better for babies? Sure.
Is it more convenient than dealing with bottles and sterilisation? Totally.
Is it worth the crippling guilt suffered by mums who struggle with it? Not a flippin’ chance.
You know what? Some Mums can’t breastfeed; their bodies just won’t produce any milk. Some have difficulties that limit the amount of milk they can produce (read a wonderful account of a mum dealing with Insufficient Glandular Tissue by clicking here). Some have a slow start but will get there eventually.
Unfortunately there can be a mindless zombie-like approach taken by medical practitioners that ignores possible problems and does nothing but repeat the incessant mantra of “Must breastfeed. Must breastfeed”.
Dad Tip: Stand up for your partner. If breastfeeding is tough let her know that she is amazing and doing everything just right. Look into alternative options such as breast pumps or nipple shields (you may need to do this research independently, depending on the attitudes of the hospital staff).
2. Put your baby’s health first
We discovered, in the maternity wards over in London, that politics can often get in the way of common sense. In the UK all public hospitals have to follow the mandates set out by the NHS; one of these is that breastfeeding is the ONLY option supported. I don’t mean that it is preferred, it is the law.
Phenom-A-Mum went into labour at midnight, through an emergency caesarian and, by the next midnight clock chime, she was being hounded by the midwives to get her colostrum (the thick yellow liquid that appears first) coming in. My wife had been awake for over 40 hours, had major surgery and was dealing with the onset of hormones that come with giving birth
And she had a starving baby. Who screamed. A lot.
So how did the midwives help her? They wrenched her nipples manually, they forced Little E’s screaming mouth onto her boob, they didn’t allow her a second to rest and come to terms with this new world she had suddenly entered. She had to breastfeed or burst.
On day three, after she had managed no more than a couple of hours sleep in total and was beside herself with guilt because our baby son was still screaming in hunger, I had a go at the midwife on duty (who was young and new and not actually to blame). Luckily she said that she “Couldn’t tell me to go across the road to Tesco and buy a certain brand of prepared baby formula. Or couldn’t let me know that she would leave a bottle and syringe near the microwave.”
Within minutes my son was settling with his first full tummy, Phenom-A-Mum was no longer terrified that she was killing our baby and, for the first time, she got some sleep that night. And guess what? As her stress levels dropped her milk started coming in. Coincidence? I seriously doubt it.
I am very thankful to that wonderful midwife for risking her job (not a joke) to help us. Although this isn’t the norm in Australia I still found an element of the mentality here.
Dad Tip: Do whatever you need to, to feed your baby, without guilt. Trust your partner’s instincts and your own. You will probably have to take the lead on this because mum will be overwhelmed.
3. Formula is not the devil
Although everyone demonises infant powdered formula at the moment, it is an amazing invention! Heck, I’d probably be dead if not for formula because my mum wasn’t able to breastfeed and I don’t know whether my folks could have afforded a wet-nurse. I hate to think how many children didn’t survive in the past because their mothers were unable to produce enough milk (not a criticism of the mums) and formula didn’t exist yet. What did babies with dairy-allergies do when the only alternative was cow, sheep or goat’s milk? I wonder if giraffe-milk counts as dairy?
Formula won’t damage your baby. It won’t make them dumber, or slower, or less creative. If you need it, use it.
And it doesn’t have to be used in isolation; it can supplement regular breastfeeding. I give Little L a bottle each night just so that Phenom-A-Mum can get two hours sleep.
I’m not saying to use formula instead of boobjuice. I want you to realise that it can be an option if you are in need.
Dad Tip: Be the one to suggest using formula if need be, and take the heat for it. It’s okay to be the bad guy if it helps your family.
4. Fight the guilt monster
Even if you don’t have the horrid experience that we did, the underlying pressure to successfully breastfeed can cause problems for new mums even months after the birth.
Mums stress out about not being a good enough mother and failing their kids, all because their breastfeeding adventure doesn’t match the one echoed in the mainstream. This guilt can eat away at them, particularly in the wee hours as they sit in the darkness and think.
Add to that the problems of self-righteous content online, narrow-minded bloggers, and loud-mouthed people in real life, new mums are walking blindfolded into a potential battlefield of negativity and put downs.
Here are a few thoughts I’ve heard voiced:
- “The baby never stops feeding. I can’t even produce enough milk for her”
- “The baby wakes up so many times each night. My milk isn’t any good, he’s still hungry”
- “My nipples are cracked and sore. Feeding is so painful. I’m a horrible mother because I want to stop”
- “Everyone else seems so at ease breastfeeding. Why am I finding it so hard? I’m a crap mum”
(Clearly I’m not great at writing in the voice of a lady, so just insert your favourite TV celebrity persona and re-read the above). We know that none of those is actually true but you can’t tell that to a guilty mum, so it’s up to the man to reinforce how spectacular a mum she really is.
Dad Tip: Combat the bad thoughts with lots of honest compliments. She won’t believe you and may fob you off but, deep down, it will begin to chip away at the self-doubt.
There is no ‘right’ way to breastfeed. There is only what is right for your partner.
All dads need to know only one thing when it comes to breastfeeding – have no expectations. It is a fickle beast that can only be tamed by time, patience and doing whatever works for your situation.
How did your first breastfeeding experience go? Was it easy or did your partner face some battles?
Images incorporated into featured image are used under Creative Commons Attribution license. Most are linked within body of this post but you will also find:
Photo by Gregg O’Connell (click here to visit original source)
Photo by Bryan Ledgard (click here to visit original source)
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