As some of you will know, amongst other things, I am quite a twitter addict. Recently I have been dealing with questions from some new dads that have surprised me. Especially when they have come from dads that had attended traditional antenatal classes.
I would like to introduce you all to Emma, Emma blogs at The Real Super Mum . I don’t often have guest blogs, in fact this is just the second I have done, but when Emma offered to write guest pieces on twitter I decided to talk to her about it. I am extremely glad I did, as she agreed to write about her experiences with Post Natal Depression (PND) and the effects it had on her family and husband.
Having taken time to reflect on what I saw on Saturday, I am still filled with an amazing warm feeling about what happened.
Saturday, saw me running a New Dads class. New Dads classes are for any dads with babies up to crawling stage. They are based around Developmental Baby Massage, whilst at the same time giving dads time to share and discuss their experiences with other dads. They also have the opportunity to ask me for specific advice on any subject relating to them and their baby.
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!
Kirstie, I cannot quietly sit and continue to read the completely unbalanced view which has been put forward via Twitter last week, and the Telegraph article today.
Kirstie, I understand your experience of birth has been of C Section birth. I understand that you did not feel prepared or supported before or after this. I think this is appalling, and that you were terribly and unforgivably let down. You are correct, NO woman should suffer a stigma for having had a C-Section. C Section is definitely NOT an easy way out. Women who are facing having a C Section should have access to appropriate support, both to prepare and recover, both physically and emotionally.
HOWEVER, Kirstie just because this was YOUR experience, does not mean that the answer to women having better birth experiences, is implementing across the board, surgical birth education. I guarantee, if antenatal education took that direction, that our C Section rate would climb even higher.
Your standpoint is that because approximately 25% of births are now C -Sections, we should accept this statistic and start preparing and teaching parents antenatally about surgical birth, as there is a 1 in 4 chance they will have one.
Sorry Kirstie, on this you are just wrong, and doing expectant parents a huge disservice.
WHY do you not want to challenge this 1 in 4 C-Section rate? WHY are we not looking for a way to lower this, rather than accepting it & educating our expectant parents to just accept it too?! This isn’t about stigma Kirstie, this is where your arguments have gotten confused, its about safety, its about education and its about informed choice.
C-Sections SHOULD absolutely 100% be used when needed – they are an amazing medical advance which undoubtedly saves lives. That is what they are there for, and there should be absolutely no guilt, stigma or failure ever attached to this.
A C-Section should be (which even you, yourself referred to it as on Twitter) – a “life saving operation”. So, if we agree that this is the role of a C-Section, do we therefore really think that 1 in 4 of all births are so dangerous that they require a life-saving procedure?
Your comment that “Not talking C-sections during a childbirth course is like not talking Shakespeare during an English literature course” is so unbelievably misinformed. Unlike you, I believe in the ability of most women to safely birth their own baby. I believe that the majority of traditional NHS and some other antenatal classes do not teach women how to do this, therefore leading to this high rate in interventions and C-Sections. That’s right, I don’t simply blame the NHS for poor care, but I blame the quality of our antenatal education, which has a crucial role to play in the UK’s high ratio of C-Sections.
I was reading with interest some of the tweets which you received during your debate. Proud parents tweeting to say that they agreed with you that it was important they had done the full C-Section role play in class, because in their class “5 out of 9 couples ended up with C-Sections”.
So, this class which had educated and prepared its parents for C-Section, had a C Section rate of around 65%! More than twice the national average… alarm bells ringing for anyone else here??
Compare this to the classes I teach, where my average C-Section rate is around 12% – HALF the national average, and four times lower than this class. Why is this?? Maybe because I am empowering women, educating them to understand their body, understand how it works, and preparing that body to get ready for birth. These are things which are not currently adequately covered in all NHS classes or traditional classes. Perhaps Kirstie, you should attend a private natural birth class, see some of the really great practice out there and the difference it makes, and promote the good… Rather than putting us all in the same boat, and slagging us off across the board with little understanding of what we do.
I am PRO women having the most positive, easy and enjoyable birth experience they can. I am anti unnecessary medical procedures which are risky and can be highly traumatic to the whole family unit. Yes, I support woman to have natural births. By your definition Kirstie, this makes me anti C-Sections. Not the case. I teach all my ladies, that in an emergency, you trust your care provider and their medical expertise, as that is what it is there for, to back you up.
However, I work with women to make INFORMED choices. Kirstie, if I had worked with you for the birth of your second baby; I would have supported you to consider all your options, and then 100% supported whichever decision you felt was RIGHT for you. Considering all the options is not about stigma attached to any particular choice – but about the fact that decisions should be about INFORMED choice. This approach is relevant whether we are talking about C Sections, or which house we decide to buy.
I am working with two perfectly healthy pregnant women at the moment, with perfectly healthy babies, who in the last week who have been told by their medical provider, that no-one should have a water birth because “it will kill their baby”. Not all advice, just because it is offered by someone in a medical role, is unbiased, accurate or informed.
There is a reason some of us are trying to support more women to have natural births, and bring down that overall C-Section percentage, and it is nothing to do with thinking women who have C-Sections are ‘lesser than’. For a start, a vaginal birth is much safer. C Sections carry much higher risk than natural birth, to both the mum and baby. The risk of a woman dying following a C-Section is 4 times higher than following a natural birth. We are talking about major abdominal surgery here. Other reasons include the impact on the mother following the birth, which is also something clearly close to your heart too. The increase in rates of postnatal depression in C-Section mothers is not just about stigma, but also is rooted in physiological factors that are absent when baby is not born vaginally.
The women I work with who have been faced with an emergency C Section during their labour, have been able to utilise the coping and breathing techniques I teach to stay calm and involved in the decision making process. I don’t ostracise, make an example of or highlight as ‘different’ any woman who while attending my classes decides to opt for an elective section. All women learn the same coping techniques which are applicable in a variety of situations.
For those women I have worked with who have had been faced with emergency sections, do I honestly think that having ‘role played’ a C Section in advance with some playmobile will make that moment when their baby’s heart stopped beating, and they got whipped into theatre, with dad chewing his nails in the corridor, any less frightening ? No, this is probably one of the most traumatic, terrifying moments of your life. It is scary, and sometimes there are things in life which we can never be truly prepared for.
Kirstie, you absolutely deserved more support, both antenatally and postnatally, than you received.
C-Section birth should not have any stigma attached to it.
But that’s as far as I can agree with you.
The answer to addressing stigma and support is NOT adding specific surgical birth education to childbirth courses. Women do deserve better education, support and birthing experiences. I already have too many women who come to my classes who have been terrified by descriptions of epidurals or demonstrations of forceps, but no real idea of how to empower themselves to have a better birth. Let’s start to support this generation of ladies who are not “too posh to push” but rather ‘too scared to push’.
Birth & Postnatal Doula & Antenatal Educator
Bump, Birth and Beyond www.bumpbirthandbeyond.co.uk
I was asked to write a piece on this subject by a fellow birth professional and midwife. Why I haven’t written it before I dont know, it is something I feel very passionately about.
Michel Odent was famously reported as saying men shouldn’t be at the birth, he even went as far as to blame them for the increase in Cesarean rates. At the time I was incensed by his comments. It was at the time when I was coming to the end of my training and was really passionate about supporting families, but especially in supporting men to prepare for their journey to fatherhood. I used the reflective practice I had learnt through my studies to really look at his comments and my reaction to them.
In truth, I actually found that in a lot of respects I agreed with him! The difference is that I don’t want to take dads out of the birth and I think there is another, more empowering way of looking at the issue. I want to see dads (and mums) being made more aware of the importance of the birth partner at birth, giving dads proper support and information to fulfil this role (if they wish to take it on) – after all the benefits will be far ranging and crucial for the whole family.
Dads-to-be themselves need to understand that in general their partner does wants them there, there is nobody they would rather have with them. But with this comes responsibility, responsibility to understand what is happening and to prepare to be the best support they can be. Preparation for the birth is not just the domain of the woman, and a dads role at birth is not just about being a spectator.
So why should men be there if they can?
The biggest enemy at any birth is fear; fear causes the production of adrenalin. This can slow the production of oxytocin and in turn this can slow or even stop contractions, which is often referred to as failure to progress. So logically, having someone in the birth room who makes the mum feel secure and safe is really important, and with the right preparation, arguably there could be no better support than having the person she loves and chooses to go through the ups and downs of life with, to support her. There is nobody she would rather have there, nobody that knows her better or she feels safer with.
Another reason for the man’s presence is in his role as an advocate for his family. A key part of his role can be to make sure his partner’s wishes and desires are listened to. Sometimes in the intensity of moment, mum can lose sight of these or be in a vulnerable position unable to advocate for what she really wishes, so the man’s role is to do this, so she can focus on the work of birthing and stay in the zone.
By being present at the birth, a man will almost always feel an immediate bond with his baby. Bonding with the unborn child is quite difficult for men, often it doesn’t occur until after the birth, and this bond can sometimes be harder to achieve if they are not there to witness and participate in the birth. This bond is crucial to the family in the first weeks and months following the birth, so certainly where men want to be present, telling them they shouldn’t be is not going to be helpful to what follows.
Are there any risks to the man being at the birth?
Unfortunately yes, the support that can be so important and desired can be undermined by dad’s own anxieties during the birth. This is partially what Odent was referring to when he made his claims. An anxious father who is fretting and worrying will cause mum to be fearful that something may be wrong (this is often subconscious but has a very real impact). This fear which mum picks up on can cause her body to increase her adrenalin production, inhibit oxytocin, and as described earlier, therefore start the chain of events that potentially will lead to a stalled labour. Unfortunately stalled labour is the most common reason for the cascade of interventions to begin, as soon as interventions start the likelihood of them escalating increases.
There is also the risk from the man’s “fix it” instinct. If the man is not understanding of the birth process he is in danger of overriding his partner’s wishes or doing something detrimental to the natural processes of birth. For example, if a man believes his partner is in pain, he will want to stop her being in pain; at this point he may suggest and even promote interventions. However, the reality may be that his partner is coping well and just making the normal sounds of birthing… but if he suggests she needs pain relief, it can bring in a seed of doubt and lead again to that negative cycle of fear. Dad’s in the birth space need to control this natural ‘fix it’ instinct, but this can only be done through first being aware of it, and then having the ability and tools to control it… This is crucial to making sure he is not one of the reasons that interventions are being suggested!
So dads listen up, if you want to be there and your partner wants you to be there, you need to put in some effort and be the best birth partner you can be. You have the potential to truly affect the whole experience and outcome, and with understanding and support you can reduce the need for interventions. Your presence WILL impact on the birth experience one way or another!
Finally, it is a helpful idea to discuss as a couple the role of the birth partner. You and your partner may decide you are not best person to act as a solo birth supporter. This is absolutely fine, it is not a requirement that you HAVE to be the only birth partner (or that you even need to be there at all, if it doesn’t feel right for you and your family). You could both consider another family member also being there, or using the services of a doula. Doulas are professionally trained as support for expectant parents, and they can act as a birth supporter alongside dad, or instead of dad – whatever suits you as a family. I would always suggest interviewing a couple of doulas to help you find the person who is right for your family. ANYONE in the birth space can have positive or negative impact depending on how they make you feel, so it is imperative that you are comfortable with them and they are also comfortable with you.
But please, can we empower families to decide what THEY want for their birth, and to allow mums AND dads to prepare, rather than be telling them who should and shouldnt be at their birth. Anyone can bring good and bad into the birth space, men/fathers are not by default ‘poor’ birth partners, and a bit more support and encouragement would go a long way.
Dean Beaumont is a leading expert in working with fathers and founder of antenatal programme DaddyNatal which supports fathers-to-be to prepare for birth and parenthood.
He is also author of The Expectant Dad’s Handbook published by Random House.
1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready.
We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 4-year-old to clean his room. In all of these situations, we are being unrealistic. We are setting ourselves up for disappointment and setting up the child for repeated failures to please us. Yet many parents ask their young children to do things that even an older child would find difficult. In short, we ask children to stop acting their age.
2. We become angry when a child fails to meet our needs.
A child can only do what he can do. If a child cannot do something we ask, it is unfair and unrealistic to expect or demand more, and anger only makes things worse. A 2-year-old can only act like a 2-year-old, a 5-year-old cannot act like a 10-year-old, and a 10-year-old cannot act like an adult. To expect more is unrealistic and unhelpful. There are limits to what a child can manage, and if we don’t accept those limits, it can only result in frustration on both sides.
3. We mistrust the child’s motives.
If a child cannot meet our needs, we assume that he is being defiant, instead of looking closely at the situation from the child’s point of view, so we can determine the truth of the matter. In reality, a “defiant” child may be ill, tired, hungry, in pain, responding to an emotional or physical hurt, or struggling with a hidden cause such as food allergy. Yet we seem to overlook these possibilities in favor of thinking the worst about the child’s “personality”.
4. We don’t allow children to be children.
We somehow forget what it was like to be a child ourselves, and expect the child to act like an adult instead of acting his age. A healthy child will be rambunctious, noisy, emotionally expressive, and will have a short attention span. All of these “problems” are not problems at all, but are in fact normal qualities of a normal child. Rather, it is our society and our society’s expectations of perfect behavior that are abnormal.
5. We get it backwards.
We expect, and demand, that the child meet our needs – for quiet, for uninterrupted sleep, for obedience to our wishes, and so on. Instead of accepting our parental role to meet the child’s needs, we expect the child to care for ours. We can become so focused on our own unmet needs and frustrations that we forget this is a child, who has needs of his own.
6. We blame and criticize when a child makes a mistake.
Yet children have had very little experience in life, and they will inevitably make mistakes. Mistakes are a natural part of learning at any age. Instead of understanding and helping the child, we blame him, as though he should be able to learn everything perfectly the first time. To err is human; to err in childhood is human and unavoidable. Yet we react to each mistake, infraction of a rule, or misbehavior with surprise and disappointment. It makes no sense to understand that a child will make mistakes, and then to react as though we think the child should behave perfectly at all times.
7. We forget how deeply blame and criticism can hurt a child.
Many parents are coming to understand that physically hurting a child is wrong and harmful, yet many of us forget how painful angry words, insults, and blame can be to a child who can only believe that he is at fault.
8. We forget how healing loving actions can be.
We fall into vicious cycles of blame and misbehavior, instead of stopping to give the child love, reassurance, self-esteem, and security with hugs and kind words.
9. We forget that our behavior provides the most potent lessons to the child.
It is truly “not what we say but what we do” that the child takes to heart. A parent who hits a child for hitting, telling him that hitting is wrong, is in fact teaching that hitting is right, at least for those in power. It is the parent who responds to problems with peaceful solutions who is teaching his child how to be a peaceful adult. So-called problems present our best opportunity for teaching values, because children learn best when they are learning about real things in real life.
10. We see only the outward behavior, not the love and good intentions inside the child.
When a child’s behavior disappoints us, we should, more than anything else we do, “assume the best”. We should always assume that the child means well and is behaving as well as possible considering all the circumstances (whether obvious or unknown to us), together with his level of experience in life. If we always assume the best about our child, the child will be free to do his best. If we give only love, love is all we will receive.
This piece was written by Jan Hunt of The Natural Child Project