My husband is a very private person who is not at all interested in the online space or social media, so you normally won’t see too much about him on this blog. However, we are co-parents so it’s pretty hard to write about the boys without some mention of their father.
And he’s a pretty amazing dad. He’s crazy about his boys, and it’s mutual. He’s loving, playful, interested, involved, and a terrific role model. He reads bedtime stories, takes them to their activities and appointments, plans parties, tickles them, hugs them, talks to them, plays Lego for hours, teaches them to ride bikes, to ski, to swim. When they were babies, he wore them in a carrier, changed their diapers, burped them, dressed them, comforted them, bathed them, fed them their first solids. You know, normal parent stuff. So it was no surprise to me when I read an article about a recent study (on a terrific site about all things fathering) that found dads of exclusively breastfed babies (as ours were) are as involved as dads of bottlefed babies. To me it’s almost one of those “they had to study that?” studies. Of course the parent-child bond is about more than feeding!
Full disclosure: in the first days of BB#1’s life, my husband was involved in finger-feeding him pumped milk through a tube due to latch issues—but I suspect he’d have traded that “bonding experience” for an easier start to breastfeeding and parenthood. But after that, if BB#1 had a bottle of pumped milk, it was generally given by me, since I was the parent home with him during the first year of his life. And BB#2 never took a bottle from anyone. The idea that my husband didn’t bond with the boys because he didn’t give them bottles is, frankly, laughable. Besides, I hated pumping and was never very successful at it. If I’d felt I had to pump or that I had to get BB#2 to take a bottle when he was clearly not interested, that would have been stress our family didn’t need. There were already so, so, so many other things my husband was doing to help care for his children.
However, the study also found that some fathers feel “inadequate” about their inability to breastfeed. To this I say “and?” I don’t mean that to sound cold. It’s just I think that’s the natural state of being of the new parent: mother, father, breastfeeding, or bottlefeeding. I breastfed, and certainly still felt inadequate a lot of the time. It’s not surprising new fathers can feel the same way—babies are hard work! There may be reasons to introduce a bottle—to reduce dads’ potential feelings of inadequacy about being biologically incapable of breastfeeding is not one of those reasons.
Another finding that surprised me: the vast majority of fathers in the study rated professional breastfeeding assistance as “unhelpful”. I am not certain what type of professional help is meant here. I personally had a lot of professional advice in a variety of forms, and the helpfulness varied greatly:
Maternity ward nurses: less than helpful (at times, detrimental).
Pediatrician: seemed to focus more on giving me permission to wean when things were difficult than in helping me succeed.
Public health nurse: fairly helpful.
Certified lactation consultant: the main reason I was finally successful with my first baby.
Midwives: though by the birth of my second child, I was fairly knowledgeable and very determined to succeed, built-in breastfeeding support is one of the reasons I suggest first-time parents-to-be consider midwifery. It might save them from dealing with some (or all) of the professionals above.
Without knowing the what sort of professional help the fathers in the study are referring to, it’s hard to surmise why they found it so poor. But my husband is one father who would suggest new parents seek help from a certified lactation consultant if they run into any issues breastfeeding. Unbelievably, not all professionals that work with moms and babies are actually experts in lactation.
My husband and I are very much equal when it comes to parenting, but there were two things he couldn’t do: give birth, and breastfeed. The fact that he completely and unselfishly supported me in my efforts by doing pretty much everything else in those early days so I could focus on feeding our baby, even if it meant he was left out of that small part of the equation, is one of the many reasons he’s an amazing father.