Dear Mr. Dad
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Your Husband and Breastfeeding
by Armin Brott, author of New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year
You know all about how great breastfeeding is, right? That it's free, that it never runs out, and that breastfed babies' diapers don't stink are major advantages. But there's a lot more. It gives you and your child a great opportunity to bond. It's also the perfect blend of nutrients for the baby. Breastfed kids have a much lower chance than formula-fed kids of developing food allergies, respiratory- and gastrointestinal illnesses, or of becoming obese as adults. It may also transmit your immunity to certain diseases on to the baby. Pretty much everyone agrees that you should breastfeed for at least a year if you can.
Odd as it sounds, you and your child aren't the only ones affected by your decision to breastfeed--your husband is too. And getting him involved is critical. A number of studies have shown that when dads support and encourage breastfeeding, their wives are more interested in doing it, are a lot more successful, and do it for longer.
Before their babies are born, nearly all expectant fathers feel that breastfeeding is the best way to feed a baby and that their partners should do so as long as possible. After the baby comes, though, a lot of new fathers have a change of heart. It's not that they don't support breastfeeding-they still think it's the best thing for everyone concerned. It's just that the whole thing makes them feel left out.
Breastfeeding "perpetuates the exclusive relationship the mother and infant experienced during pregnancy," says Dr. Pamela Jordan, one of the few researchers ever to explore the effects of breastfeeding on men. As a result, your breastfeeding-spectator husband might be feeling some or all of the following:
- A fear that it's going harder to bond and develop a relationship with his child
- A sense of inadequacy, that nothing he could ever do could ever compete with your breasts
- A slight feeling of resentment toward the baby who has "come between" him and you
- A sense of relief when the baby is weaned because he'll finally have a chance to catch up
- A sense that because you can breastfeed you somehow possess the knowledge and skills that make you a naturally better parent (which means, of course, that he's just not suited for the job)
So what can you do? Start by understanding his feelings (whether or not he expresses them.) If you're breastfeeding, you're in the primary parenting role and you have the power to invite your husband in or to shut him out. "Just as the father is viewed as the primary support of the mother-infant relationship," says Dr. Jordan, "the mother is the primary support to the father-infant relationship... supporting the father during breastfeeding may help improve his, and consequently, the mother's, satisfaction with breastfeeding, the duration of breastfeeding, and the adaptation of both parents to parenthood."
Armin Brott, hailed by Time as "the superdad's superdad," has written or co-written six critically acclaimed books on fatherhood, including the newly released second edition of Fathering Your Toddler: A Dad's Guide to the Second and Third Years. His articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, American Baby, Parenting, Child, Men's Health, The Washington Post among others. Armin is an experienced radio and TV guest, and has appeared on Today, CBS Overnight, Fox News, and Politically Incorrect. He's the host of "Positive Parenting," a weekly radio program in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com.
Armin Brott is available via telephone and email for personal one on one and group coaching sessions. Contact Armin to arrange personal coaching sessions and rediscover how to be more involved in pregnancy and childbirth.