Thanks to Jarold ‘Tom’ Johnston, MSN, CNM, IBCLC, LTC(R), AN, Methodist University, Fayetteville, NC
for this guest post on the BFinCB Blog about how fathers can provide breastfeeding support just in time for Father’s Day!
Happy Father’s Day to all of the supportive and loving fathers. Every year breastfeeding support pages abound with helpful advice for new dads who want to be supportive and helpful but just don’t know how. Any amount of time spent on the internet will, no doubt find such wonderful tips as “Help out around the house to allow your wife time to focus on learning how to nurse the baby” or “Make certain the mother has a comfortable chair and full glass of water”. While these are really very helpful and loving things that all new fathers can and probably should do, they leave the mother with a useful teammate (dad) who would love to help her breastfeed but doesn’t know the first thing about breastfeeding. What a mother needs at 3 AM is not a fresh glass of water but rather a helpful and supportive coach, a voice of comfort and reassurance, and perhaps even someone who can watch the baby nurse and help troubleshoot the latch to avoid or ease sore nipples. Remember, no matter what happens, you two are going home alone. No one from the hospital will be there to help you two at 3 AM, it is up to you buddy. Make it happen. So now we have to talk about exactly what you can do to help.
In the past I’ve written a very detailed description of what a good latch looks like and how you can apply what you learned on the rifle range back in basic training to help you trouble shoot a bad latch. After all, everything you need to know to help your lovely bride breastfeed you learned in basic training. Just line up your front and rear site posts and pull SPORTS. You can find that lovely little nugget in Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, section five (page 257-264), or you can look up a very similar FAQ on this website at Dad’s and Breastfeeding, you can also download the FAQ as a PDF handout.
Contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding really is the simplest thing in the world for a new mother and infant. That said, many new mothers struggle with it. If you remember your high school biology you might recall that there are four traits common to all mammals (and you, your wife, and your child are all mammals):
- 1) We are covered in hair.
- 2) We have warm blood (unlike reptiles).
- 3) We are born alive (not in eggs).
- 4) We survive as infants by nursing from our mother’s mammary glands (AKA Breastfeeding).
Every mammal on the planet, from the lowly rat to the majestic blue whale shares those four traits. Breastfeeding isn’t a learned skill that human mothers have to struggle to learn and often fail at. If it were that tough, we would never have survived as a species. No, breastfeeding is just as easy for humans as it is for dog, cats, lions, and llamas. So why do human’s struggle? I don’t think we have a perfect answer for that yet, but I would bet my butt that it is because humans like to mess with things that don’t need to be messed with. We deliver at hospitals rather than our homes, we wrap babies up like little burritos and put them the Tupperware drawer (the bassinette). Everyone around the mother does everything they can to keep the baby out of her arms and off of her breasts (e.g. “Let me hold that beautiful baby and take pictures.” “You shouldn’t hold him all day it will spoil him.” “Why don’t you send him to the nursery so you can get some sleep”). No other mammal would ever let you take her baby away, no other mammal would ever just get up and walk away from her baby. All of the other babies stay very close, practically skin-to-skin for the first few days and they do surprisingly well. My advice to all new parents is to hold the baby, all the time. In the first few days you and your bride will find that breastfeeding is easy if you give the baby plenty of time to practice. Don’t hold the baby for 10-20 minutes every 2-3 hours, but rather 10-20 hours a day.
It is also important to remember that breastfeeding is a basic mammalian survival strategy. All mammals must learn three things to stay alive immediately after they are born. First they have to learn to breathe; humans usually get that down in the first minute or two. Second they have to learn to maintain their own temperature; again humans do that quickly, usually in the first 30 – 60 minutes. Third, they have to learn how to eat, and humans master that in the first day or two. They don’t eat because you want them to or because the midwife says that it is good for them. They eat for the same reason that they breathe, they eat because they want to live. Babies don’t choose to breastfeed, they don’t refuse the breast, and they certainly don’t understand that if they hold out long enough someone will give them a bottle of artificial milk. A healthy baby will take the breast because they want to live, not because you want them to eat. If you are trying to feed your baby and he is refusing it means he isn’t hungry at the moment and you should try again later.
So what can you, the loving father, do to help with breastfeeding? Make sure you know a little about what it means to breastfeed. Encourage the mother and baby to spend as much time skin to skin as possible over the first few days of life. Remember that the baby eats because he wants to live and there is no such thing as a suicidal newborn, he will eat when he is ready and not a minute before. Know how what a good latch looks like and how to troubleshoot a bad latch (see previously mentioned articles). And apply what the Army already taught you; line up your front and rear site posts and when in doubt, pull SPORTS.
Is the father of your baby supportive of breastfeeding? How has the father of your baby helped with breastfeeding? Does he know about SPORTS? Leave a comment below!