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Breastfeeding and Dads: How do they fit into the equation?

have been very fortunate to work with many wonderful, supportive fathers over the last few years in my lactation practice. I recall one father in particular who was so in awe of the breastfeeding experience that when his wife succeeded in finally getting their baby to latch comfortably he literally jumped up in excitement and exclaimed “Oh my G-d! That was awesome!!!”. I wish I could bottle his enthusiasm and the underlying message of love and support he was sending to his wife when he celebrated so wholeheartedly in her success.

Yet other times, a father's attitude can unintentionally negatively impact a mother’s degree of success with breastfeeding. Something as innocent as a father wanting to take part in the feeding experience and giving the baby a bottle (in the early days/weeks) can sometimes upset the breastfeeding rhythm that mom and baby are working hard to establish and cause breastfeeding difficulties later.

I have also noticed that fathers, more so than mothers, tend to worry about their baby's well-being. They are ready to turn to supplementation long before the mother is ready or is medically advised. I think this heightened concern comes from a pure source. The dad is instinctually feeling protective and wants to make sure his child is safe. On the other hand, mom is trusting her maternal instincts knowing that her breastmilk is best and that being patient will greatly pay off. To all the dads out there, unless the pediatrician has advised otherwise, trust in your wife’s ability to breastfeed and strive to become her personal cheerleader and biggest fan! If you believe she can do it, she will believe she can do it and that's the first and most important step toward success.

And let’s not forget all the unsolicited advice and even criticisms new moms receive from just about anyone and everyone. It’s a father's responsibility to try and shield his wife from this type of advice no matter how “well meaning”- especially if it’s from his side of the family (sorry mother-in-laws- this is not your baby!). Be there for her when her confidence begins to wane.

Besides for the emotional side, there are hundreds of ways in which a father can practically help his wife succeed with breastfeeding. Yes, it's true only a mother can breastfeed, but that means everything ELSE can fall within the father’s domain. Burping, diapering, soothing and interacting are just some examples of the other countless activities a father can take part in. Because breastfeeding can feel overwhelming in the first few weeks, a father who truly wants his wife to succeed will help alleviate some of her other responsibilities such as tidying up around the house or helping with the older children. And while dads may not be able to breastfeed, they certainly can and should hold their babies skin to skin. Research has shown that just like a mother’s chest can raise a chilled baby's internal temperature, the father's chest can do the same as well.

So for all those dad's out there who don’t know how they fit into the breastfeeding equation- it’s quite simple: loving husband = loving father.

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