Father Knows Breast: Men have breastfeeding angst, too

I’ve been re-reading Joan Wolf’s book, Is Breast Best: Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood. The first time I read it I was doing so in order to review it for this site, and also as research for my own book; this second reading is simply for enjoyment. And I have to say, it is a damn good study. If anything, its downfall is that it is too comprehensive; she covers so many issues so thoroughly that it almost gets overwhelming. But that’s a pretty good fault to have, kind of like when an recruiter asks you what your faults are and you say “Huh…well, um, I guess I’m a perfectionist…”

Anyway, one of the (many) arguments she makes is about the gender-specific nature of the breastfeeding-begets-bonding rhetoric. How come we never consider the “bonding” behaviors of fathers in regards to infant feeding? It got me thinking… we seldom discuss the male POV here on FFF, and maybe it’s time we did.

On the few male-written blogs on breastfeeding I’ve seen, the blogger always refers to the “myth” that breastfed babies can’t bond with their fathers, and how this wasn’t true for him/didn’t matter if it was true for him because nature designed it that way and it was all worth it in the end. These guys usually talk about how it makes them even more in awe of their wives; how they were able to help out in other ways (diapering, cleaning the house, bringing the baby to their wives in the middle of the night); how “real men” support breastfeeding.

Most of these sentiments are really beautiful, and I don’t doubt that all of them are 100% true. For some men. But just as with women, I think it’s unfair to assume that every man’s experience with breastfeeding is going to be identical.

I’m sure there are men who do feel left out, when only their wives can provide the comfort and food to their new infants. Babies don’t do much but eat (and poop, but changing a diaper isn’t much of a bonding activity) at the beginning; with first babies, most willing and able dads will be involved in breastfeeding because it takes time for their wives to get the hang of it (I know my own Fearless Husband was quite adept at maneuvering my nipples into my son’s mouth by the end of the first week). But after breastfeeding is established, dads don’t really get to do much in the way of feeding unless pumping and bottles are involved. I’m not saying this is a “reason” to bottle feed, or an indictment of breastfeeding, but I also believe we should feel free to voice any and all feelings about individual experiences with breastfeeding. It is an intimate experience, like birth, and sometimes it helps to tell our stories- even if that means saying things that are politically incorrect.

These are tricky subjects, in even trickier situations. We can’t censor ourselves for fear of appearing anti-breastfeeding. I actually think that in some ways, doing so is anti-breastfeeding – because if we aren’t honest about our experiences and feelings and challenges and concerns, how the hell will breastfeeding ever become the “norm”? “Norm” meaning normal, right? Normal things can be made fun of; looked at analytically; debated. Normal means that we can talk about the uncomfortable truths.

So, just in case anyone with a penis should ever stumble across this blog, I want to make a few things clear, since it’s highly unlikely anyone with actual authority will have the balls to do it:

  • It’s okay to feel left out.

  • It’s okay to feel a bit squeamish that a body part which was once an integral part of your intimate, sexual relationship with your wife is now simply a feeding tool /public domain, being seen, discussed, and manhandled by a myriad of medical professionals and lactation consultants.

  • It’s okay to wish that you could do “the most important thing for your baby”, that you could shoulder some of the responsibility for his/her future health and intelligence.

  • It’s okay to question whether this “most important thing” is really all that important, and if it will have that much impact on your child’s future health and intelligence.

  • It’s okay to feel confused about how best to support your wife when she is crying over bleeding nipples/insufficient supply/frustration/pain/mastitis/spilled milk, when part of you just wants to give the kid a damn bottle and tell her to quit already, she’s been through enough; it’s okay that you aren’t sure whether she really wants to quit or needs you to be the rock and push her through this roadblock.

  • It’s okay to feel concerned about your baby’s welfare if your wife is having trouble breastfeeding or is telling you she simply doesn’t want to do it. When every parenting book and birth-prep class you took has informed you that formula fed babies are sickly, emotionally stunted and stupid, how could you not worry?

  • It’s okay to feel uncomfortable when you see your wife’s friends nursing. Two months ago if you’d seen their boobs it would have been a federal case; now you’re supposed to think nothing of it…?

  • It’s okay that you can’t understand why your wife cares so much about what other people think of her and what she is or isn’t doing with her breasts.

  • It’s okay that you feel resentful that fathers are barely acknowledged in all the talk about infant feeding and early development, especially if you are a gay, single, or primary caregiving dad. It’s not right, it’s out-and-out sexist, and it just sucks.

We can’t leave fathers out of the conversation, because they inevitably become part of the conversation. Yes, breastfeeding is a woman’s issue, but it has become a social and medical issue revolving around babies. Babies who often have both a male and a female parent, and sometimes only a male parent, or two male parents. The physiological act of lactation is exclusive to women; feeding babies is in the purview of both genders. I hope more fathers start to weigh in on how the pressure to breastfeed is affecting them, as well.

Oh – and also – while writing this, I couldn’t help but think: First we ask men not to fixate on our breasts as sexual objects; then we ask them to fixate on our breasts as a means to a healthier, wealthier child; a healthier, wealthier nation. Either way, the attention is all on the breasts.

Paging Dr. Freud….

About the Author:

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


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40 thoughts on “Father Knows Breast: Men have breastfeeding angst, too

  1. Can I add one more? It's okay to be furious at the people who are making the mother of your child out to be a child abuser because of what she is or isn't doing with her breasts. Cause I know my husband was.

  2. “It's okay that you feel resentful that fathers are barely acknowledged in all the talk about infant feeding and early development, especially if you are a gay, single, or primary caregiving dad. It's not right, it's out-and-out sexist, and it just sucks. ”

    I find this the point that really rings true for us. It's amazing that there is absolutely no information given to Fathers about how to support their wife/partner during the breastfeeding process. I couldn't find a single NHS leaflet available for men on it, the only advice I remember DH being given was something along the lines of make her a cup of tea and get some cushions! How are men supposed to know how to support their wives or recognise when things are getting out of hand and find a good way of discussing this if there's nothing out there?

    I don't think this is even specific to breastfeeding either, when I was quite early pregnant we got quite a lot of snide comments from midwives because we both looked young (I was 23 and he 26), one of which was directed at my husband: “So, if you're thinking of doing anything for this baby maybe you could buy it a car seat to come home from the hospital in.” Nevermind that we were (are still) both in our twenties and even if we weren't, assumptions weren't hers to make, and nevermind that I'm a MRS, DH has to be pretty dedicated to be married to me!

  3. I think this is great, and should be brought to the light. I think fathers get left out/pushed out of lots of parenting. It's kind of weird that there is a lot of talk about equality and men participating more in childcare. We know that men today participate more than their fathers did, and we applaud that. However, that can go too far: a man who is seen taking his child out for an afternoon is hailed as a hero, and must be an “excellent” father for paying attention (or “babysitting”) to his child. Or, a man seen out in public with children is frowned on–he must be unemployed.

    We want fathers to have an active role in childcare (incl. feeding) but at the same time, we often don't let them. All the parenting magazines cater to women—all of the ads, all of the articles assume Mom is reading and Dad is not. Maybe that Mom is reading and telling Dad what to do. Dad deserves a medal for the most basic acts of childcare (say, changing a diaper), because it's assumed that he is not involved.

    The number of SAHDs is increasing, which says that this culture is slowly getting more comfortable with fathers being primary caregivers and/or highly involved in parenting. Hopefully things will continue on that path, and hopefully the number of “deadbeat” dads will decrease, as they give fathers a bad name too.

    As for BFing..both mother and father should be aware that “bonding” does not only take place during breastfeeding (or any feeding). It is an ongoing process, and includes a lot of people besides parents.

  4. While not everyone may not agree with me, I would even add: When you feel that breastfeeding is harmful to your child and/or your wife because your baby is not gaining weight and constantly crying and/or your wife is sinking into PPD, it's ok to intervene. It's ok to put your foot down and say “We are done with breastfeeding”. Some may say that the decision to breastfeed is not yours to make, but you have a role as a father to look out for your wife and child's best interest. A new mother is often flooded with hormones and guilt and have a harder time making a rational decision. And don't forget to tell her that she did her best and she's not a failure.

    My husband had to do this, and I feel that it really was necessary.

  5. I'm kind of yes and no on this. There are times when the woman is struggling and the combination of physical and emotional strain is something that she alone knows, and I think spouses/partners need to be just as sensitive as we'd want friends to be at this point – I heard a bit of “isn't it more efficient to pump?” and other classic unsupportive things and while yes, ultimately it was best for us to switch to formula and my spouse stayed at home with the baby for months and made the right decisions then, I think partners really need to ask the mother how she feels about things before “putting their foot down.” It's not an easy conversation to have at the best of times, as with most sensitive things in marriage.

    And let's not assume the partner is always going to be in favour of stopping BFing. Sometimes because they don't know what it's like personally, they wonder why you're so upset about it or what's so hard about it and can be a source of pressure to continue because it's “best for our child.” Perhaps we should have a whole What Not to Do/Say thread for dads ;)

  6. I can definitely understand how that can be touchy. I would definitely not be okay with a man pressuring his wife to breastfeed or bottlefeed against her will. What I'm saying is, in my situation and a few other stories I've heard or read here, the mother's irrational decision to keep breastfeeding no matter what was putting the child's health at risk because the babies were being underfed. Myself and those other mothers were so brainwashed by the “breast is best” propaganda that we refused to see what was right in front of us. The father is often not as emotionally involved in breastfeeding, and certainly not as hormonal, so he can be more objective. If he sees that his wife and child are suffering, he should not be afraid to speak up, express his concerns, and intervene if necessary.

  7. I've been lurking for a while. I have a 10 month old that I am nursing and pumping for while at work. I have a 3 year old that I did the same thing for. I really like your blog, it has helped me learn acceptance for different feeding choices. I think everyone should be able to feed their infant how and what they want and it's a constant surprise to me to read the comments from posters who feel judged for formula feeding. I have felt judged for breastfeeding, and people felt like they could be vocal to me about it the second my older daughter turned one. It has been my life experience that formula is the “normal” way to feed babies.

    Something that struck me when reading this blog post is that there is an assumption that if you are bottle feeding that the dad is going to be getting up and feeding the baby. I just can't understand that. All the moms that I know – including the formula feeding ones – are doing most of the work of child rearing. Even when the dad could be giving a bottle. There seems to be this mythical universe where if only the baby could be given a bottle that mom could get sleep, glorious sleep.

    And of course this thing about dad not bonding with the baby if they aren't feeding the baby. It seems like all dads and babies are bonded if dad is willing to put the time in. My husband fed some bottles to my babies, but not many. He is the only one my 3 year old wants – and she nursed to 25 months. He's bonded with our 10 month old as well – despite not giving her any bottles in the last four months. I suppose if he gave each of them a bottle a day, then we would attribute that bonding to the feeding time that he had with them. But since he didn't, we just attribute it to the rest of fathering.

  8. It was my husband and mom who had to intervene with me. I didn't see what I was doing to myself. I was willing to throw my health away for breastfeeding, my thinking about it was that warped. It wasn't so much of a “we're done now” attitude as it was a gentle realignment of priorities. A lot of my husband and mom telling me I can't take care my baby if I can't take care of myself because I'm in too much pain to drive, put clothes on, or cuddle her.

    If breastfeeding is interfering with health–and as we know here it can very well do this despite all the assertions from the “breast is best” camps that it's natural, healthy, and has no down-sides–then yes, I think the father has a right to intervene.

  9. And by the way I loved this. It aggravates me to no end how much dads are pushed out of parenting. To the point where people see no problem with no changing area in men's restrooms. That drives me up a wall–if I've had 3 hours of sleep and am exhausted while at a restaurant or wherever, my husband should have the ability to change her so I can just chill.

  10. Sure, and I can see how if one's starting point on BFing was more committed and the health risks more clear (e.g. baby losing weight but mother refusing to supplement, mother health taking a bad turn, etc) it is good for someone to step in and snap her out of it; this wasn't the case for me, so I can't speak from that position. I just think the “intervention,” as it were, is a very sensitive one. If we worry about how to advise a friend who is having trouble BFing, let's not assume it's any easier for a husband to put himself in his wife's shoes/Boppy.

  11. As someone whose spouse did stay at home with the baby for about 6 months and who has always bristled at the “daddy is helping” or “babysitting” approach (I kind of had to insist on using the word “participate” in our house, I hate the implication that the man is “helping” but it's a woman's “responsibility” or job – often when she already has another job), I really like the inclusion of fathers in the debate. If people really want to see gender equality in parenting they've got to ask some uncomfortable questions about how “what's best for the child” may be quite bad for the woman's long-term economic or family role as an equal or the father's investment in the child(ren) as the sphere of his decision-making and responsibility too. Hanna Rosin's Atlantic article touched on this and I really found it so true in the early days – if you're the one feeding, you're the one who knows when the baby needs to be changed, burped, put to nap etc and for all the talk about just being able to hand the baby to dad, dad is often off doing other things while mom feeds and it's all too easy to fall into the default mode of not wanting to hunt him down when you could do five mins of burping yourself. The mode of woman as primary caregiver ASKING her partner to “help” does little for a sense of equal responsibility (if equal responsibility is what you're after – and with two thirds of American women with young children working outside the home, probably is a factor for many of us).

    AmyM, totally agree on the weird disconnect between increasing numbers of SAHDs and equal parenting + parenting magazines and ads all being directed at “Mom.”

  12. Totally agree. My husband is a teacher, so he stays home with our children in the summer. He's gotten some comments, mostly praise about he's “helping.” Also, we have twins so that earns him even more points–taking multiple children out and about by himself. However, he sometimes got the impression that the women he ran into (and it was mostly women) were wondering where the childrens' mother was.

    I'd have to say that our parenting is pretty close to equal…I do end up doing more during the school year, but he has them all summer. Bottle feeding certainly helped back when they were infants..it enabled us to take shifts so both of us could get a block of sleep. If I'd had to get up for every feeding, I'd have wanted to kill myself by the end of week 1, and I would have resented the hell out of my husband (resentment would have been unfair, but I know I would have felt like that.)

  13. If a partner reaches across and tenderly takes the craft knife out of a weeping, inconsolable partner's hands and heads off to the bathroom to get the sterile dressings, they are seen as strong and caring.

    If they reach over and take a screaming hungry baby and head off to the kitchen to make up a bottle, they are seen as undermining and domineering puppets of the formula industry.

    Both are reactions to seeing extreme emotional stress and physical damage being inflcted on their family.

    Partners do the best they can. We all feel that jousters in the Mummy Wars should learn to leave other people the heck alone; when it comes to partners, I'd say doubly so. People might feel they are entitled to judge people “in their position”. Until they've been the carer / supporter looking in, they should learn the good grace to keep schtumm!

    /bah humbug off!

    NB: this isn't directed at anyone in the thread, it is a general “howling at the moon” over the inability of some folk to keep their noses inside their own picket fence!

  14. Yep, I think the thorniest thing we deal with as pro-breastfeeding formula feeders is how to support others who are going through a rough time of it with breastfeeding. We know that formula feeding has worked for our families, yet we don't want to feel as if we're proving the militant lactivists right about booby traps. Spouses/partners are caught between a rock and a hard place and doubly so when the situation is not clear-cut, like you said.

    All I can really offer is that breastfeeding promotion is often done assuming that the decision is made in a box or vacuum. There is no eye for the big picture. If breastfeeding keeps your cup from being sufficiently full that you can't pour of it into others' cups, then something needs to give. Maybe it's not breastfeeding, maybe something else needs to give in order for it to work, and that's fine. But the point is something has to give, and that's life. It may be impossible to figure out what the correct thing is to do in a case like yours, Perfesser, but I suspect if moms are more encouraged to be mindful of their own cups, and given “permission” such as it were from others to keep their cups full, it may be easier to help someone figure out in what capacity to continue breastfeeding, or when it's time to stop.

  15. My husband is SAHD with our daughter during the day while I work (he works at night). She just turned two, and people still do not get it! He gets all sorts of weird looks when he is out grocery shopping with her, and I swear that there are people who do not believe me when I tell them that he does all the shopping and all the cooking. He also gets the “pat on the head” response, where people feel the need to praise him for spending time with our daughter. He is really uncomfortable with both kinds of attention – he is just being her dad! One that takes the cake is my mom – she is always saying that our daughter has two mommies! This is a huge compliment from her, but geeze! She does mean well though.

    I definitely think dads have a place in the feeding decision – in our house, we pretty equally decided what feeding methods to try as we struggled with our daughter's milk intolerance. At the beginning, when I was trying to breastfeed, my husband had the important role of throwing people out of the hospital room if their “encouragement” was becoming frustrating.

    For us, the early days were actually more about bonding for him, because I was recovering from an emergency c-section and couldn't even hold our daughter. So trying to get her to nurse was my only real contact with her at first, and he even helped with positioning during those sessions. He lost 6 pounds the first week of our daughter's life, because he was doing everything to care for her and would rarely stop to eat. They have such an amazing bond, that even though the beginning was really hard, it was worth it to see how close they are.

  16. You know, I think my husband had a similar experience with FC because I was so out of it with postpartum depression. It was the one silver lining to that particular hell- he got to bond w/our son in a way most dads don't get to.

  17. I think this post raises some interesting questions. While I completely agree that fathers are very much pushed out of the parenting forum/decisions, and I have to bite my tongue everytime I hear someone say “Oh Daddy is helping/babysitting,” I have to admit one of my biggest fears is being pressured to breastfeed by my husband should we decide to have a baby. I simply do not believe that a husband/male partner has any right to force/pressure the mother of his child to use or not use her breasts in a way that she doesn't want to/is not comfortable doing. Don't get me wrong-I absolutely believe it is a father's business how his baby is fed and he definetly has a right to voice opinions/concerns about bfing, formula feeding, etc. However, it is my STRONG opinion that the decision to breastfeed or not is ultimately the mother's. Yes, it's not fair to men but I also don't think it's fair to us that we are the ones who have to be pregnant/give birth, so there are trade offs all around here. It's the biology and reality of the situation. I am pretty sure I do not want to breastfeed but if my husband really wanted me to try it-I'd be willing to compromise with pumping/combo bottle feeding or something of the like. But it will be made very clear to him before I agree to get pregnant that exclusive nursing at my breast with no EBM/formula bottles/supplementation is completely out of the question (not to mention impossible as I must return to work at 12 weeks). I think there's a fine line between father involvement and pressure/forcing from the father. My fear is that the lactivist movement will start capitalizing on dads and inadvertendly encourage them to force/pressure mom. The WIC website on breastfeeding is already starting to sing that tune-check out their special section for fathers.

  18. Agree – I think the person making the physical and personal sacrifices for child rearing/feeding should have more of a say since they are the ones to bear the cost ultimately. You can't bully someone about what to do or not do with their body. But fathers can certainly find all sorts of ways to play an active role in their child's upbringing other than feeding, whether in other forms of child care or ensuring that the mother has time “off”/to herself if most of her time is taken up feeding, and of course spending time with the child as s/he grows – taking the full amount of parental leave offered, recognizing that the baby is a two-person job for the first two months at least, and generally not treating their partner as a single parent.

    (And I'm still waiting for all the studies correlating things that fathers do with better health/intelligence/behavioral outcomes for children – how about “fathers who spend 3-4 hours a day caring for their children => two higher IQ points”? When everything a primary caregiver (generally mother) does is correlated sloppily with all kinds of major life outcomes, why the assumption that the mother is parenting alone? This would also give women the ability to tell the father, here's what you need to do to improve our child's health and life chances. Did y'all know btw that men who drink more than 3 units of alcohol, e.g. two beers, produce fragmented sperm with worse outcomes for conception and the child's proper formation in utero? Where's the public health pressure on men to not drink while conceiving the way there is on women?)

  19. When it's a matter of survival, serious baby weight loss, mother with bad PPD etc, I'm with you. In most less serious cases I would not want to judge or second guess either the partner's position or the mother's physical/emotional state and I do think gender norms being as they are and with men generally socialized to express their feelings more strongly while women try to be agreeable, it's possible for women to feel bullied.

  20. I too am waiting for these studies. I did a post awhile back about poor outcomes associated with older fathers. It was tongue in cheek, but at the same time, I really resent that these things don't get the same overbearing attention as breastfeeding.

  21. Kristin, I actually feel the same ambivalence in regards to this issue. It's such a fine line- I understand the frustration/confusion from the male POV, but on the other hand, what a woman does with her body is her choice. And I completely agree with your point that advocacy could capitalize on this confusion- I think they already have. My purpose with this post was to say that men have a right to feel uncomfortable things about infant feeding, not that they should feel entitled to exert pressure in either direction. Hope it didn't come across that way!

  22. Completely agree and your post didn't come across that way at all! I thought it was great and very sensitive to the male perspective. It just got me thinking about examples of the male influence being taken too far (lactivists encouraging fathers to put pressure on moms) and also my own fears/insecurities. If anything-it's quite hypocritcal on the lactivist/mommy tunnel vision side… Ignore/push dad out of the discussions yet capitalize on his unique position to influence mom when it comes to breastfeeding, etc.

    I also think there's an equal amount of misunderstanding/lack of perspective on the breastfeeding benefits/formula risk issues on the male side-which could excarbate any right they may feel they have to pressure mom. Another reason why I hope many men/dads read this blog!

  23. I actually found an article a few weeks ago on a study done on overweight/obese children and the affects of either father's eating habits or own weight problems (can't remember the details exactly). Interestingly enough, it said the mother's weight/eating habits had no effect in this particulary study. Granted, it was an obscure article and I'm sure equally obscure study, but here's to hoping that the pendulum keeps slowly but surely swinging towards a more balanced view of how father's influence a child's health/well being.

  24. The drink stuff is legit, btw – my dear husband found these studies referenced in, of course, a Brit book on fertility and conception. I suppose dad-studies just don't sell in the same emotive, tapping-female-guilt, culture-wars can-you-believe-what-mothers-do-these-days media-friendly way that studies on BFing and what a woman consumes while preg do.

  25. When my son was inconsolable (and I was completely out of it and trying to put back together some semblance of a life while also being a crazy PP woman), my husband nearly begged me to supplement with formula. I still remember how resentful I felt and believed that he must not support my goal to EBF. I didn't allow him to feed so much as an ounce of formula; I was blind to my son's starvation. My husband finally did some research about possible digestive issues and encouraged me to try organic formula when I was faced with the decision of feeding my 6 week old BM with steroids or formula. As it turned out, my husband was more able to see what our son needed, and I should have listened to him (instead of online lactivists) far earlier. After a week of supplementing, it was very clear that my son had been hungry for six weeks.

    It's a hard line. I struggle with this same thing with friends. If I mention any word about formula, am I coming across as anti-breastfeeding? How are partners able to support their wives in their goals, goals that may be created for them by this lactivist movement and also look out for their children in cases where the two are not complimentary choices? Thanks for asking these questions.

  26. It astounds me how men are pushed aside in the role of childrearing in general, except of course to provide the finances in the family. I remember reading two “dueling” essays in Oprah magazine a few years ago–one by a working mom, one by a SAHM. The SAHM said she values her role because “time is the currency of love.” I immediately thought, “Oh really? I guess that means the *father of her children* doesn't love them at all. You know, being that he's spending his currency of love at work.” I mean, what a stupid thing to say. I get the point, but it just throws men off into the “necessary but only for very specific things” area.

    I'm also dismayed at how there are billions of essays about how mothers are solely responsible for shaping their daughters into butt-kicking Mensa astrophysicists who never worry about their weight or how pretty they are. I know for a fact my own father was far more integral to my desires to have a meaningful career than my mother was.

  27. My husband has done a lot of bottle feeds, but I've probably done more just cause I'm at home for the most part. My daughter is definitely a daddy's girl, but I consider her well-bonded to all her close relatives, many of whom have fed her, at least a little.

    I can't sleep when she wakes up screeching for food, whether I'm “on duty” or my husband is. So I hear ya that bottles don't always == more sleep.

    You raise a good point of what exactly does bonding mean. I don't have the answers, but it strikes me as an extremely subjective thing–the kind of thing that it's impossible to really test for. Which blows a hole in the militant lactivist line that breastfeeding means more bonding with baby. At least if they want to call themselves “evidence-based.”

  28. To me, it's another way in which militant anything against mothers shows how inorganic, non-holistic, and against nature the movement is. Whether you're talking militant lactivism or militant anti-circumcision or militant anything else. Let's face it–NONE of these decisions should be made in a box. If Dad isn't around or doesn't want anything to do with the baby, fine, these decisions STILL should be made taking in the totality of Mom's and baby's life and health. If Dad is around, then his life and health need to be taken into consideration as well.

    Even if the mom and baby have no health barriers to breastfeeding, if the dad is suffering some major life situation–unemployment, major illness, loss of a loved one, whatever–and breastfeeding is somehow getting in the way of that support…babies want people in their lives. I know I'd rather my baby have her dad accessible to her than not. I feel that whatever health benefits there are to breastfeeding can be outweighed by other health benefits that may arise from not breastfeeding. Pick what will give you the most benefit, if you can't do it all.

    I strongly believe women need to be encouraged to keep their cups full, but the same goes for the family as a whole. You're no good to your baby physically or mentally unable to care for him/her. Neither is the rest of the family. ***Do what it takes to keep your cup and the family cup full so you can pour of it into others'.***

  29. I agree that the world where bottle = more sleep for mom is a mythical place. When my daughter started screaming in the middle of the night, everyone was awake. Feedings were usually a joint effort. One would heat up the bottle while the other changed her, one would feed her and the other would sit there and talk…

    My daughter is a daddy's girl. When she hit the 4 month mark and got really aware of her surroundings, it was apparent that she is his match. They are just a pair. I don't think it has anything to do with feeding, it's just that the two of them are on the same wavelength. I always sound like a nutcase when I try to describe it, because it's something that I can see but can't really explain.

  30. Very good points – certainly a lot depends on who the primary caregiver is vs who is going back to work whether it's bottle or breast that will feed the baby. And certainly I've known my share of FFing women who were still effectively single parents or primary parents…the difference I think comes down to pragmatism and whether the decision to BF is taken in such a way as to preclude the occasional bottle feed. There are probably scenarios in which the woman is going to stay home with the baby anyway and no matter how she feeds, it's her job; there are probably cases where her commitment to BFing will mean that she will try to stay home longer and not resume work for a while (in the case of some women I knew, this meant dropping off the career track for a little while); in other cases even if both spouses are working outside the home, whether due to BFing or traditional gender role expectations, the woman will be the one getting up at night for feeds. In the first couple of cases I agree, it doesn't matter at all how you feed. In the case of partners where both are working, whether you want to use a bottle (even occasionally) or not can make a difference in who carries the weight of most feedings. For some people I know even though both were working, because the woman was BFing and very committed to EBF, she's the one who was up at night and sleep deprived for basically two years (did not luck out on baby sleeping through the night till much later).

    I think it's a matter of path dependency – we are all human and do the easiest thing and make assumptions based on what others have done before, and if the male partner assumes that the baby is being taken care of in most ways and if he doesn't have a role in feeding sometimes it can be easier for him to leave most of the baby care work to the woman (again: depends a lot on the man!) BFing or bottle feeding isn't destiny in this regard of course but it does make some options easier than others. I know lots of men like your husband who have been wonderful bonding with their babies without feeding, and some, like mine, who have developed that close bond and sense of the baby's rhythms and needs by being up at night with them.

    As for sleep glorious sleep – if it had NOT been for the option of the night bottle and my willingness to risk supply drop/engorgement etc for it, I would not have been able to get enough sleep at night to go to work the next day, which I did. It's not a guarantee but if there is no bottle option and your baby isn't one of those rare angels who sleeps well early on, and you're back at work at 7 weeks, you're pretty much guaranteed to be sleep deprived.

  31. I think this comment goes to show that bonding happens outside of the context of breastfeeding (or any other type of feeding). My son is bonded and securely attached even with formula and the occasional bottle prop. Our relationship is much more than that, and I'd think if lactivists took a step back, they could see that.

    In terms of the judgment thing, I think that's just motherhood. Sadly. Where I live, the statistics probably show that formula feeding is the norm. However, the socioeconomic status of those immediately around me is such that the societal norm (and expectation if you are to be a “good” mom) I am surrounded by is breastfeeding. And so those in that group who formula feed are judged by the rest in that group for doing so (for not providing liquid gold). But there is certainly another subset of the population for which breastfeeding is not seen the same way and for which people who chose to do so are judged. It's not right either way.

  32. My husband and I took shifts when the babies were getting up several times/night. Once they were down to one feed overnight (3am), we alternated nights. This worked well for us, because though neither of us was getting as much sleep as we wished, we were getting about equal amounts of it. This system would not have worked if I wanted to BF unless I could have pumped enough for husband to bottle feed the breast milk.

    It may be that we have an unusual situation here with twins, but my husband did not hesitate to throw himself into parenting. I don't know how it would have been with just one baby at a time, but with two, it was all hands on deck and no one ever questioned that.

    We have friends whose baby was born just a few weeks earlier than ours, and the husband in that couple did exactly what you describe: assume the baby is taken care of, unless directly asked to do something. He's gotten better about it over the last 3yrs though.

  33. Brooke is right – bonding is so much more than feeding. My husband and my oldest are total buddies – he adores her, she adores him. But when I say that our parenting has been 90/10, with me doing most of the work even when I was working, might even be an understatement. He got up with the first a handful of times. With our second, almost never (because she was breastfed longer, and gave up her night feedings while still on the breast). He really, when they were babies, did almost nothing. I think that's partially the control freak in me and his own inability to understand small human creatures. But still, he has managed to become very very close to our eldest (our youngest is another story – at 18 months, her world is mommy and doesn't seem to be changing). There really is so much more to bonding than those few early months, and even when the father is less involved in the daily “ritual” work.

  34. My husband never understood why I was so upset about not breastfeeding, and I was so brainwashed that I thought he was just being unsupportive and booby-trapping me. Until he said something that let me know he had been Googling postpartum depression. I had been kind of worried that I might be getting depressed (might have had something to do with the daily multi-hour-long crying jags and inability to perform basic self-care tasks). Realizing that it wasn't all in my head, that it was bad enough that my husband had picked up on it and was Googling it, was what finally started to snap me out of it.

    Looking back, I can see that he was pretty unprepared, and there were some parts of the whole birth and newborn experience that were kind of traumatic or shocking for him. I think he was counting on me to figure out what to do and then teach him, and when he couldn't trust my judgment on that anymore, and when he saw me miserable and in pain, his natural instinct was to figure out how to fix the problem as fast as he could. I will be forever grateful for that.

    I think it's less about the dad “putting his foot down” and more about him having an open and honest talk with the mom about his concerns if he sees her struggling and wonders if something needs to give. He has a much different stake in it than a friend or other relative does because he is the child's parent and the mom's partner.

    I also think that it's important for us to 1) insist that our partners take an active, informed role in all decision-making about birth and child-raising; 2) treat our partners as equals in those decisions; and 3) recognize and understand the changes that they are going to go through and the things they are going to experience during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.

  35. Once we switched to formula, we did the exact same thing as you did, Amy (and we only have one baby). Part of what was causing/exacerbating my postpartum depression was extreme sleep-deprivation. I was too scared to nap during the day when I was home alone with our son because I was afraid I wouldn't wake up if he cried. Then at night, between feeding and pumping and just general newborn weird sleep stuff, I was lucky to get 4 or 5 non-consecutive hours of sleep a night. Usually a couple hours between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m and a couple more hours between 4 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. I've always been able to get by on fairly little sleep (6-7 hours is fine), but I found my limit, and it was scary shit.

    Once it was no longer necessary for me to be involved in overnight feedings, my husband gave me a couple nights off so I could catch up on sleep, and then we started doing shifts. Once we were down to just one or two fairly short wakings a night, we just alternated nights so that one of us was getting a decent night's sleep every night. Sure there were many times I would wake up on his nights and he would wake up on mine, but it made such a difference just not having to get out of bed.

  36. Really, Dad's not taking on more feedings is mythical? Wow, I really need to go hug my husband. He got up in the middle of the night more than I did in the beginning. He said I needed to recover from birth so after our daughter was born I was sleeping 12 hours per day. No joke. After a few weeks we'd trade off. Since our baby slept about 3 hours at a time at birth we'd each get 6 hour stretches at a time of sleep. Honestly, I'm formula feeding my second from the get-go because of it. I slept more after my baby was born than before it, what with being very pregnant and having to go to the bathroom every hour or so!

  37. Sadly it seems that fathers are viewed by many as nothing more than sperm donors or money machines.. thank you modern feminism. I agree with you 110% on this Roxane. I think a father should be able to put his foot down if its detrimental to mother and baby… including weaning. Children need both parents and dad deserves more time with his baby than just diaper changing and playing step and fetch it for BF mom. BF say that FF are selfish.. gee is it really going to hurt them to pump milk into a bottle once in a while so dad can join in on feeding his child? So that maybe she can also have a break and recharge… I would say it could be construed as selfishness to deny a father the right to feed his child on occasion.

  38. Not even that, but what happens when dad and baby are out by themselves? I realize this is a silly question, because of course dads never got out with their children unless mom or another woman is with them.

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