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!


35 thoughts on “Breastfeeding Dads!

  1. Very interesting post – and great to hear a man’s perspective on this for once. Very sensible and balanced opinions and I’ll look forward to the next post on the subject. If only I’d been able to see this at this point last year it may have made those first few weeks for our new family a little easier!

    • Hi Molly

      Glad you enjoyed it, did promise you it was work in progress but finally decided to publish. Those first few weeks for most families is difficult time, with host of emotions and changes taking place through all of us.

      Subscribe to rss feed and you with get automatic blogs sent to your email 😉

  2. Dads are huge to the whole breastfeeding thing!!! I love your post and what I love about it is the permission for dads to claim their role in breastfeeding. I have noticed that the quality of breastfeeding relationship between my child and my partner is immediately impacted by how I view it…on a day to day basis. One day, I am sad because my needs for connection and intimacy and touch aren’t getting met and I belly-moan about how Sacha is big enough and shouldn’t need the boob anymore. In those sad moments when I am not taking responsibility for my needs, Andrea wavers in her intuition about what is best for our boy. When I am ensuring my needs for connection, intimacy and touch are getting met and I am concurrently able to empathically recognize the needs in others, then I am able to support and nurture the breastfeeding relationship between baby and mama with true result.

    Thank you for empowering me to take responsibility for my efforts in supporting an awesome, positive breastfeeding relationship between my boy and his mama. PROUD TO BE A BREASTFEEDING DAD!

    • Hi Joe, totally agree supportive or unsupportive dad can be difference between successful establishment or failure. BUT the term unsupportive is misleading as more term uninformed is probably more accurate.

      I love way you have phrased things with regards to taking responsibility for your needs. Such a true statement, and the key here is celebrating that breastfeeding relationship between mum and our babies instead of resenting it.

  3. Fabulously written article, and so very, very, important for Dads, and the whole family. Huge Congrats, I’d love to keep in touch with your tips, thoughts please. I have a FB site that I’d love to share this with …Chiropractic Community for Birth Centrs (Aust)..Thanks for caring and making a huge difference in Mens lives.

    • Thank you, I think thats my point, it isnt just about dads but the benefit for the whole family. Feel free to share on FB there is DaddyNatal fb page as well you may want to follow or feel free to subscribe to rss feed in side bar to get automatic updates on blog.

  4. Splendid, what a fresh point of view! This should be compulsory reading for the men in the maternity wards before they take their new family´s home!

  5. Great read. Our daughter is seven months old now and I’m still breastfeeding. I wouldn’t have got through those first few tough months without her daddy. He is absolutely superb, and yes he does feel a little jealous when we’re having a nice sit down together and a feed! We decided when she arrived that he would be in charge of bathtime so he gets the opportunity to have a specific time with her everyday where I’m not involved. I think the most important thing is communication – if we didn’t tell each other how we were feeling the last seven months would have been a total nightmare instead of the fantastic time we’re having. I think I might even get him to read some of your posts!! Thanks 🙂

    • Communication always so important, but also sometimes difficult at this time. Having dad only time is great way to overcome some of issues.

      Would welcome his comments on all posts, always great to get input from dads.

  6. My husband wrote a post for me last week on Dads & Breastfeeding. You might find it interesting to see another dad’s POV.

    I must say, I’ve always been like ‘only 3% medically can’t’ blah blah blah, and it was during breastfeeding week that i sat down and did the maths, and was actually stunned at the sheer number those 3% make up. Those that can are still 97%, so much much more, but still.

  7. Thanks Daddy Natal for this post. It’s nice to have posts coming FROM FATHERS TO FATHERS.

    You probably know of these resources already, but just in case, LLL Canada has a sheet called “How Fathers Help”, LLLI has a pamphlet called “The Breastfeeding Father” and of course the books Becoming a Father (Sears) and Fatherwise.

    Keep up the good work.

  8. Love this. I recognise the “fix-it impulse” only too well! Dads are so important in helping mums to breastfeed successfully. Knowing that I had my partner’s full support, despite the occasional blip, made it work for me.

  9. What a fantastic, insightful article! You have caught the essence of what it’s like to be a Dad in a society where sole importance is put on mother and baby, especially antenatally! My husband went through the gamut of emotions whilst I was pregnant with our youngest child, more so if he’d been with me at an antenatal appointment with the midwife or at the hospital. He was always made to feel like a spare part. His feeling was that there should be special support put in place for Dads as well as mums, especially for after the birth.
    I can really relate to what you were saying about the ‘fix it’ reflex in men! I’m sure my hubby has felt like this on many many occasions. When it came to breastfeeding in the early days I will always be grateful for his unwaivering support.

    • Andi, can fully understand how he felt. What drove me to do what i now do. Maybe your partner may consider training with me at some point to help support more fathers and prevent them feeling the way we did.

  10. This is a brilliant post. Thank you for publishing it. NCT breastfeeding counsellors work very hard to stress to Dads how important their role is. Many don’t think they should come to the breastfeeding sessions and need to be strongly encouraged by the antenatal teachers beforehand. In fact, often the mums don’t realise how important it is that Dads attend. When they leave the sessions, the dads often say how glad they are that they came in the end!

    I talk a lot in the antenatal sessions I facilitate, and will be writing a lot on my blog, about the vital role Dads play in helping Mum be successful at breastfeeding, and in the early weeks in general, including how they, and anyone else who isn’t breastfeeding (including, in a lot of cases, the Mums themselves!) can bond with their babies.

    • Thank you Clare. I do wish that the more extreme Breastfeeding supporters would takes some time to reflect, and see that they are actually doing more harm than good. We do not need to react to the media, I know a lot of breastfeeding supporters who do brilliant work and if only those that speak in such extreme fashion could see the disservice they do to the majority of their colleagues. Also the media would soon have nothing to go at.

      In respect to antenatal teaching I totally agree, it is so important to involve dads at this stage, which is why I am still staggered when I find that in some classes breastfeeding is discussed on the mum only nights!! (and unfortunately yes even some NCT classes)

      Antenatal bonding is pet subject of mine and one I believe so strongly in especially from dads point of view. My piece on when does a man become a dad may be well worth a read by you as you will see I discuss it in detail there. It also forms a very important part of the DaddyNatal classes.

      Part II of Breastfeeding Dads will be out over weekend so I hope you will come back and read that and let me know what you think.

  11. What an excellent post! Its amazing when it is so well recognised that dads have a huge role in early breastfeeding relationships that they are completly ignored in the process!

  12. I’ll definitely come back and read it. I have put your blog on my feed thingy, and I linked to this post in my blog post scheduled to go out on Monday morning. If I get to the computer in time, I’ll quickly stick part 2 on as well 🙂

  13. Pingback: Breastfeeding Burlesque « Free Your Parenting

  14. What a fantastic post, I really enjoyed reading it. I also liked the fact that you stated how mothers shouldnt be pressurised in to having to breast feed. I ended up breast feeding as I felt pushed in to it, I have psorasis and was worried about the effect the breast feeding would have.
    I was convinced that I would be doing my baby a disservice by not breast feeding. So I tried and it didnt work as it did cause more painful psorasis and now have serious problems. I like this blog also because it is true, the Dads tend to get ignored and not supported as much as the mums do! I will definatley be re-visiting this blog!

    • Thank you, I try and give very balanced views. I have no agendas just want people to make informed choices. Better supported fathers lends to better supported families, my passion and vision is to make the support I give available nationwide.

  15. I really like this.I’m going to post a link on my personal FB page and FB fan page.I’ve read lots of mums accounts of breastfeeding especially for my guest posts so it’s interesting to read a man’s perspective.Your doing a fab job and I really hope Daddy natal takes off in a big way.

    • Thank you Aly. Fingers crossed we can keep spreading message. We have training course to train more dads to deliver courses in October so will be available in other areas in the 2012

  16. What a fabulous post! It’s really, really refreshing to read some practical, positive, helpful advice for dads on how to support a woman who is breastfeeding. Almost every dad I’ve ever spoken to about it has wanted to help, but has been at a loss for how to help – either because they were concerned to “butt in” to the mother-baby feeding relationship, or because they simply didn’t know what to do. There is so little support for men in the early days of parenthood, and this is doubly true if the mother is having a hard time with breastfeeding / depression / post surgery issues.

    My husband knew from the start that I wanted to breastfeed, if I could, no matter how hard it got. And I am absolutely certain that it didn’t get all that hard for me *because* he was there to support me all the way through. Together, we got through it, and I breastfed my little girl for eight months, even during PND. I am so glad that posts like this are there to help more dads to be there for their partners, to help them through the trials (and they really *are* trials) of early breastfeeding. Thanks for the great post!

    My latest post:

    • Thank you for popping over from our discussion. Really glad you liked piece, doing some follow up post on some specific problems and advice. Have been reading through your post as well after you latest comment. Love five a day piece, well worth a read.

      I think my whole approach is if parenting as a couple then you need to work as a team, to do this someone needs to be supporting dads and helping them understand what that means and requires. A supported dad = a supported family

  17. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I have really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  18. Pingback: Breastfeeding Support: The Big Picture — Bump Diaries

  19. I love this article! Too often the crucial role of the significant other/Father is dismissed in the breastfeeding relationship. A Mother needs and relies on her partner for support.

    It is very interesting to read your explanation on the need for men to “fix it”. Very accurate and insightful.

    You have inspired me to interview my husband and post it on my blog. I am looking forward to his thoughts on breastfeeding our three children, for a combined total of 80 months.

  20. Great post. You’ve hit the nail on the head. In the 2 antenatal breastfeeding workshop I attended (NHS and NCT), dads were excluded. Now, my hubby never suggested formula, or bought it, or particularly wanted to be more involved through feeding so he doesn’t fall into the two categories. But I’ve seen it happen often, and I you’ve made me think, well, why oh why were dad’s excluded in those sessions?

  21. Thanks for this. My hubby has been instrumental in supporting me in my breastfeeding journey. Right from when it all went wrong in hospital and I needed an EMCS up until this morning when I wanted 40 winks and he took our 14month old to make breakfast. I think the role of fathers is often underestimated especially in today’s society. I think you & others like you could & are turning the tide. Dads you rock!

Leave a Reply