How has the role of fathers and breastfeeding changed over the years?
If you’re about to attempt and embark on the wonderful world of breastfeeding and parenting for the first time, we’re truly happy for you!
Life seems so full of possibility at this point. There’s that shiny ray of hope that all that could possibly go well, certainly will and you’ll be enjoying bonding with baby in no time. Both infant and Mum will be reaping all the comforts and benefits breastfeeding will bring. That’s the story told by many images of breastfeeding that you see in media and popular culture: that it’s just about Mum and baby.
But where does Dad figure in all of this? Is he necessarily relegated to all things non-feeding because Mummy is the one with the boobs? Or is there a more significant role he can play in breastfeeding?
Daddy does Dad-care
Before we even try to answer that question, let’s acknowledge that every couple, family, birth story and breastfeeding journey will be different and hence needs are different too. Some Mums may be more than willing and able to take on nursing as a personal mothering experience, and to great success; but that doesn’t mean that there is no role for fathers to play.
In fact, studies have shown that fathers show considerable influence in breastfeeding in a number of ways: the decision to breastfeed in the first place; assisting at the first feeding; assistance during breastfeeding thereafter and risk factors for bottle-feeding. This means that fathers being involved (or not at all) can significantly impact the success of breastfeeding overall.
An American-based study of working, middle class Mums shows that strong support by Dad for Mum to breastfeed has been associated with 98.1% incidence of breastfeeding, as opposed to only 26.1% where the father was neutral towards the option. While this might seem intuitive, it might explain why in some cases and for some Mums, their nursing experience may not be optimal.
That’s not all. While it’s common knowledge that women go through major hormonal changes during pregnancy and after childbirth, men too, undergo some fluctuations when they become Dads. New fathers may experience a dip in testosterone and a surge in estrogen, which boosts their natural desire to nurture their children.
So Dads, the first step to make a difference in this area is not to say, “Anything you want, dear!” We all can agree on the fact that breast milk is best for baby, so if this is an area that parents are keen to achieve success, fathers cannot play a diminished role. Talk about the decision and make it a shared one. Go to breastfeeding classes together and learn. Mum may have the “functioning equipment” but Dad has equal ownership of the decision to breastfeed!
The first feed
The next step to ensure optimal success (or at least set the stage for it) is at the first feed. It’s a pretty normal occurrence now for fathers to be present at delivery and mothers who are serious about breastfeeding know the importance of latching on within the first hour of birth.
As Mum may possibly be tired after delivering, Dad can step in to ensure that things go according to the birth plan. Even with a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed partner, fathers should be fully present and connected during that first feed. Not only is this a meaningful moment, it’s also a way for them to be a full participant instead of an onlooker or cameraperson. It’s a great time to observe skin-to-skin contact and for babies to bond with both Mum as well as Dad, setting the tone for future feedings.
The journey forward
What happens next might seem more predictable but no less important. Most fathers already do participate in breastfeeding by being their partner’s extra arms and legs: they bring the baby to Mum, burp baby and clean-up after and ensure that Mum has all the care, comfort and accouterments needed to make milk and feed successfully.
For Mums who do have lactation challenges or decide to express instead of latch on, Dads continue to play a role in influencing the circumstances. With bottles, the act of feeding can then be shared between Mum and Dad; which also includes the task of cleaning and preparing bottles, and handling milk.
With changing times, greater availability of information and more open minds, there has never been a better opportunity for successful breastfeeding to happen. At Hegen, we root for parents everywhere to be able to experience this special joy with their little ones!