Many think of breastfeeding as a process that mother and baby need to be left alone to perform. Not true. While women have the mammary glands to make milk and feed their babies, they can’t do it alone. An established support system plays a key role in the start and continuation of breastfeeding. The breastfeeding father holds an importance piece in that support system.
Most parenting shows and books focus their advice and guidance primarily on the mother (even children’s books have a lot of pictures of babies and kids with their mothers, but not their fathers). Parents share effort and responsibility. Women generally take care of the babies, but the number of fathers staying home with the baby increases yearly.
Prenatal Roles for the Breastfeeding Father
Attend appointments. The breastfeeding father begins his support by attending as many OBGYN appointments as possible. OBGYN often discuss the importance of breastfeeding and will include the father in the conversation. However, keep mind that some healthcare providers, even during delivery, still focus giving advice to mom. This can leave the breastfeeding father feeling like an observer.
Some fathers (mothers also) are scared of parenthood, especially with the first child. Attending prenatal appointments, birth classes, breastfeeding classes together can make breastfeeding fathers feel more comfortable with parenting during pregnancy.
Advocate when needed. Breastfeeding fathers also make sure that both medical providers and family members respect a partner’s wishes during labor at the hospital.
Ongoing Roles for the Breastfeeding Father
Help with routines. Some of the things fathers do that they’re not given enough credit for: burping the baby, coming home from work and playing with baby so the mother can take a shower; taking the baby and siblings for a walk or to the park so the mother can rest, doing laundry, shopping for grocery, cooking/picking up food, etc, These tasks play important role in the establishment and duration of breastfeeding, and they deserve recognition. Helping with routines also ends up creating good bonding experiences for dad and the baby.
Ease bedtime. Fathers have the magical touch that puts babies (and toddlers) to sleep. Often a baby or even toddler will resist sleeping for a breastfeeding mom because of the association with eating. When breastfeeding fathers steps in they can seem to a magic paternal touch. Skin to skin contact with dad is a part of that magic. Let baby settle in on your bare chest. Parenting professionals often say that parents of newborns should sleep when the baby sleeps. The breastfeeding father should follow this advice too.
Share interests. Breastfeeding fathers should not hesitate to spend time, even with a small baby, together doing what they love. Play your favorite songs or (non-violent) video game. If you play an instrument, see if your baby will listen in. If you love to read, read aloud–even the news or Shakespeare. Know that if your baby turns his head away or fusses, he needs a break.
Soothe baby. Armin A. Brott, is the father of three daughters and the author of the best-selling books The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be. He states that “Another very important way dads can help with a fussy baby may be because they can’t breastfeed … When handed to dad, they will start to calm and fall asleep. Many fathers find great satisfaction in being the one who can calm the baby and get him to sleep.” For more about breastfeeding fathers by Armin Brott, read his article.
Fathers are not standing observers! The father keeps the family together. Breastfeeding mothers often cite her partner’s support as a major factor in how she was able to continue breastfeeding for the length of time that she has. A father’s support kept her going.