A Dads Guide to Breastfeeding

A DAD’S GUIDE TO BREASTFEEDING

So you and your partner are considering to breastfeeding your baby. Well, don’t fall into the trap of just assuming that because you don’t have breasts, feeding will be just “mum’s ‘job”! You should know that your opinion, input and support throughout the process is fundamental, and it can really help to shape your baby’s feeding journey in more ways that you can imagine! Studies show that mums whose partners are supportive of breastfeeding feel a lot more confident in their ability to feed their baby and also go on to breastfeed for longer, so it’s really important that you know the basics, understand your role and know how you can support your partner.

Breastfeeding benefits:

When making the decision to breastfeed, it’s important that neither of you feels pressured to do so. You should talk about how you both feel about breastfeeding your baby, and it might be good for you both to consider the nutritional and health benefits to both mum and baby.

For baby:

• Breast milk is the perfect food for baby – it changes composition and calories content throughout the day, and it meets baby’s nutritional needs perfectly, in a way that cannot be replicated by formula milk.
• Antibodies are passed from mum to baby through breast milk, and this can help them fight infections a lot easier.
• A breastfed baby is less likely to have diarrhoea, constipation and vomiting.
• Breast milk also reduces the risk of chest and ear infections, eczema and obesity in later life.

But there are also health benefits for mum!

• Did you know that breastfeeding significantly lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer?
• Breastfeeding uses up approximately 500 calories per day, so it can also help some mums to re-gain their pre-pregnancy shape a lot quicker.

And let’s be honest, breastfeeding can be quite a ‘convenient’ choice for your family as a whole – the milk is always there, ready when needed, and at the right temperature. You don’t need any equipment, preparation and sterilisation time (and that can only be a bonus when baby wakes up for that 3am feed), and it doesn’t cost you a penny either!

So if it’s good all round, where’s the catch?

Preparing and making it work:

As natural as it may seem, breastfeeding is a learned skill, for mum AND for baby! It takes some time (a few weeks) for mum to feel comfortable and confident in her newly learnt skill, and you will play a massive role in how she feels.

If you want to help and make it easier for your partner from the start, the best thing you can do is to prepare.

Make sure that, together with your partner, you learn how breastfeeding works. Yes, you read that right. Learn all about colostrum, foremilk and hindmilk; learn about feeding on demand and about latches and positions (or holds). If your partner is attending a class or course, make sure you go along, and if not, be ready to look for some inclusive classes in your local area.

You knowing your facts will pay dividends later as, whenever your partner is feeling unsure and not 100% confident, or if she experiences discomfort and pain, she’ll know you’ll be there to help her. And she’ll trust that even if you don’t have all the answers, you’ll know how to get help.

So make sure that you use your midwives and health visitors whenever you can in those early days, and arm yourself with a list of helplines (listed below) which will give you access to organisations who can support you and your partner in your journey.

Top 10 breastfeeding tips for dads:

So, once your baby has arrived and mum has started breastfeeding, how do YOU fit in? How can YOU practically help?

1. First things first, remember that when it comes to pregnancy, birth and parenting, everyone has an opinion! Be prepared to be the one defending your family’s feeding choices in front of not-so-understanding family and friends who either don’t agree with your methods or decide to share well-meaning (but unsolicited) tips and advice.

2. Being positive about breastfeeding is crucial, so make sure that you compliment mum and tell her how proud you are of her and how well she’s doing. You’re doing this as a family, so try and fend off any negative comments coming from anyone else who doesn’t appear as supportive as you are.

3. All that preparation that you did in advance will come in handy now – be prepared to know how important a good latch is, for both mum and baby, and help your partner to get herself comfortable and well supported whilst feeding so that she can achieve a latch that she feels happy with.

4. Remember that for most mums, breastfeeding can take some practice at first. Make sure that mum is comfortable and well supported wherever she decides to feed the baby. Babies are all different in the way they feed, and whilst some of the feeds will be really short, others can be quite long, so it’s important that mum is comfortable in the position that she has chosen and that her back is well supported. If she’s feeling self-conscious when feeding, help her to find privacy in the house by keeping visitors at the door when you know that baby needs a feed or by helping her to use a muslin, sling or breastfeeding scarf or cover, if she wants to feed and cover herself in front of visitors or when in public.

5. Also, breastfeeding is thirsty work, so make sure that once she’s settled herself comfortably for a feed she has plenty of water to drink.

6. Breastfeeding mums need an extra 300-500 calories per day when breastfeeding, so make sure that she doesn’t skip meals. If baby wants to feed when you’re having lunch or dinner let them! Just make sure that you allow mum to eat as well, by helping cutting her food up so she can feed herself with one hand.

7. Give mum a break and a rest from time to time – resting is fundamental for a breastfeeding mum, especially in those very early days. You can take care of nappy changing, give the baby a bath, take the baby for a walk, or just enjoy some skin-to-skin time by taking your shirt off and holding your baby close to your chest (you can just hold the baby or place them in a sling or a carrier, even if it’s just to walk around the house).

8. In the night, help mum by going to get the baby for her when they need a feed. Why not helping her to burp the baby and settle baby back to sleep after the feed? You may find that this is actually a lot easier for you to do, rather than your partner, as baby won’t be able to smell the milk on you and may settle a lot quicker!

9. If you have other children, guests or visitors around the house make sure to keep them entertained whilst mum is feeding, so she can focus on feeding the baby in peace.

10. Try not to be jealous of that feeding bond that mum has with the baby, but rather celebrate it! You’re doing this as a team, and your support IS crucial! Once the first few weeks have passed and the breastfeeding relationship feels strong and ‘established’, you can always give your baby a bottle of expressed milk, but hopefully you’ll have seen how much more you can actually do for your breastfeeding partner and your baby!

Useful Helplines
UNICEF UK baby friendly Initiative
0844 801 2414, 020 7375 6052 or 020 7375 6144
NCT Breastfeeding helpline
0300 330 0771
The Breastfeeding Network and National Breastfeeding Helpline
0300 100 0212
La Leche League
0845 120 2918
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers
0300 330 5453

A Dad needs your help! (and your vote)

Back on the 15th of August I got the great news that I had been listed as finalist in the Gurgle Blogger Awards for Dad bloggers. To say I was over the moon would have been an understatement, unfortunately on reading who the other 4 finalists were my heart sank.

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CRAP (Confusion Ridicule And Pretence) Empower Families Not Disempower!!

Most who know me will know I am not a great fan of forums. In my opinion, they tend to lead to competitive parenting. The advice is often contradictory, doing nothing to give parents confidence in their own abilities. This is the reason I suggest to people coming through my classes, that if they are after advice on particular subject, to contact myself or another birth professional and ask them to point them in the direction of balanced information they can read.

Why? Simple, I believe that it is our job to empower parents, help them get the information they need, for them to be able to make an informed choice. My personal opinions on parenting are irrelevant, it is for them, as parents to trust their instincts and make best decisions for their family based upon as much information as they need. After all, all families, their lifestyles, and their needs, are different!

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Breastfeeding Dads Part II

Ok, as a family you have decided to breastfeed, so that’s it, dad’s job done… over to mum!

Absolutely not! If this is decision you have made, then you need to work together, this is a team activity and your support is crucial.

First up, lets myth bust! Breastfeeding is natural, easy and all women can do it!

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Breastfeeding Dads!

Right, before we get into this one, let’s be clear on my personal opinion: I advocate breastfeeding wherever possible. I believe it can be the best start for a child and I believe in the benefits of it. That said, I do not decry those that choose not to breastfeed, as long as it is an informed decision and has been taken in the best interests of the family, given the personal circumstances.

Ok, that’s that out of the way! So what do I have to say on the subject?

Simple, I get more and more fed up with the discussions I see taking place… I am fed up with media and their use of terms like breastfeeding zealots, breastfeeding Nazis or even Breastapo. But I am also sick of the attacks on families that have chosen to not breastfeed or for medical reason, cannot breastfeed. Yes it is true, depending on what research you read, between 1 and 5% have a medical reason for not being able to personally breastfeed. Even if it’s only 3%, that’s still over 18,000 mums a year in the UK alone who can’t. Yes, there are now milk banks, or milk sharing networks, but this are not widely available, or advertised. Unfortunately, they are also viewed as very ‘hippy’. It has also been a long while since wet nurses were commonly used, so to some the thought of it being another woman’s milk being given to their baby, for some reason repulses them.

There is still so much general discussion about the amount of women that give up in the first two weeks, or percentage who are still feeding at 3 or 6 months, and how we need to support more women to continue breastfeeding. This almost becomes self-defeating, the cycle that occurs from this are feelings of being under pressure, leading to fear of ‘failure’ and the guilt associated with that, which then allows the media to use the terms they do. Yes, a lot of women get great support that really helps, but also a lot of women also struggle, hide their struggle because they feel guilty or scared of being criticised or judged, turn to formula, AGAIN hiding this because they feel guilty or scared of being criticised or judged. I have known many women who have even hidden the formula cartons away when they know the midwife/health visitor is coming to visit, rather than ask for help.

BUT that isn’t what I want to make people think about, I want to draw attention to the crucial element that is being missed by breast feeding support workers, health visitors, midwives etc. Not all of them, but a large proportion.


DADS! Yes, dads. They are a crucial element to successful establishment and continuation. Again, those same dads, without adequate support to take a positive role, can also be the reason for failure to establish and all this is being ignored.

 

So why can Dads be the reason for failure to establish or continue breastfeeding?

There are two main reasons. Firstly, there is what I refer to as the male ‘fix it reflex’. When us men see our loved ones in distress, pain or despair our natural instinct is to ‘fix it’. And being men, we tend to look for practical ways to do this. Without proper support and understanding, this is what can make us men a liability, during pregnancy, during labour and when baby is born! We don’t do it out of malice, we don’t do it for self-gain, we simply want to help our loved one and ‘fix’ the problem. In breastfeeding, this can manifest itself when our loved one may be struggling to establish breastfeeding, or generally just finding it hard, especially in those first few weeks! For many men, if we see what we perceive to be our loved ones in difficulty, we will try to help, and often this will include (when all else seems to not be working) to reach for the formula. Why? Simply because it is an almost immediate, practical, solution, no other reason. We understand breastfeeding offers the best start for our baby, but at the time our ‘fix it reflex’ takes over, and we want to help. The decision to formula feed has been taken out of the hands of our partner, which can create a negative spiral of guilt, denial and then the very real difficulties associated with the impact mixed feeding can have on milk production… ultimately possibly leading to them discontinuing breastfeeding.

The second reason is a little more complicated. Now, men if not properly prepared, can feel excluded in a household of baby and breastfeeding mum. They can end up feeling a bit of a spare part or dogs body, if nobody has supported them, prepared them and told them how to help support their family, is that really such a revelation? If this continues, it can also turn to resentment, a feeling of exclusion, and lead to male postnatal depression. Those early days in general are quite a stressful time, complete with the torture that is sleep deprivation for the whole family.

I’m sure many of us will agree, even if just privately, at this time we didn’t always act rationally, and again this is the case here. Generally it will be men that first bring formula into the house. Normally stating “just in case of emergency” or “better to be prepared” or something along those lines.  Men long for an opportunity to simply get involved with feeding, so if opportunity presents itself they will jump at the chance, often this is through the use of formula they bought “just in case”.

Unfortunately there is a growing attitude that even expressing is not really a good idea. Yes, I know it can lead to problems, but again, understanding and preparation here is essential, and many families make this work very successfully. Men do want to share that feeling, the one women get when they are feeding their baby and can gaze into their eyes, that moment of very special connection. We men can become very jealous of that connection, especially when you also consider some of the issues I discuss in my blog on antenatal bonding. For most men they don’t feel like they are dad until baby is born, so this bonding process can be inhibited in these circumstances.

I’m not saying all men will do all, or some of the above, but a lot will. Simply, either out of misguided idea of helping our family, or simply not understanding our role. Just waiting for an opportunity, so we can become more involved.

This has all sounded very negative, Dads can do so much if properly supported and prepared. If they understand how to become involved, and are given a sense of purpose, so many of these possible pitfalls can be avoided. Dads, when mum is feeding baby, sit with her, talk with her and talk to your baby. Bring mum a drink whilst she is feeding, that simple act has so many benefits both physically and emotionally. Take a proactive role in what comes after the feed, the winding the sleepy post-feed cuddle…

I believe our current antenatal education system needs to be addressed, it needs to be MORE dad inclusive. It is why we discuss breastfeeding within DaddyNatal… it is why I prepare dads for the feelings (positive and negative) they may start to feel. It is why I give dads a list of things they can do in support of a breastfeeding partner. It is why I make dads aware of their ‘fix it reflex’ and teach them at times like this to sit on their hands. It is why I give dads a sense of purpose and get them to share in the feeling of achievement, if they as a family have chosen to breastfeed and are successfully doing so.

There is so much more I want to write on this subject and at a later date I will re visit it. I will also publish my tips and advice for Breastfeeding Dads. Go on try that term because successful breastfeeding, like all aspects of parenting is easier if everyone is pulling together. So yes, dads should breastfeed too, figuratively speaking!