Newsletter #35: Role of Dads in Breastfeeding Families (Part 2)

By BMSG Editorial Team

This is Part 2 of our newsletter article that discusses and offers suggestions on what fathers can do to support their breastfeeding wives. Part 1 focused on the findings of a survey that we conducted on breastfeeding mothers to find out what form of support they most valued from their partners. Part 2 (below) will focus on speaking to dads who are supportive of and have assisted their breastfeeding wives, as well as line out suggestions of tasks and actions that fathers have done for other fathers to emulate.

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Acknowledging a Father’s Feelings

As wives and partners, it is definitely important for us to validate the feelings of our husbands, the new dads, just as much as how we would expect the same from them. Whether it is breastfeeding, child-rearing, or anything else that concerns the household, a healthy relationship is one that recognises the effect that events have on each partner.

Recognising this, we felt that it was also apt to talk to fathers themselves. We spoke to three fathers who shared about their roles in the breastfeeding journey.

Dads can play an active role in their newborn’s life by doing other things apart from feeding the baby. [Image for illustration]

Believing in the Mother’s Ability to Breastfeed

For many first-time parents, breastfeeding is one of the areas of child-rearing that many may not have any experience with. Many young parents today were not breastfed as children, due to highly successful formula campaigns back in the 70s and 80s. Fathers, especially, may not have grown up watching their mothers or other female family members breastfeed.

It is no surprise then that Rennie Iskandar Suprayitno, a father of one, had no expectations and prior knowledge about breastfeeding when his little one arrived. As with many other families, the first night bringing a newborn home must be the most challenging, and Iskandar had wondered, amidst the challenges, if breastfeeding was the right thing to do. “But we kept the faith; I knew my wife was never one to give up easily,” said the 37-year-old, who also works in the outdoor education industry. Clearly, his confidence and belief in his wife were key in helping her to persevere through the struggles.

Iskandar (left) with his son and wife, Mysha (right) [Credits: Nur Mysha Tan]

When his wife had difficulty latching, he involved himself by helping to feed his baby via the syringe and finger-feeding method. He also topped up her water bottle frequently so that she can remain hydrated, and helped to ensure she had ample privacy to nurse their baby. Iskandar was also able to help his wife in other ways: “When we both discovered that I was able to help to soothe and unblock her ducts, I felt that I could contribute. I know it means a lot when my son can have his fill, without compromising on my wife’s comfort.”

Support Comes in Many Forms

Similarly, Ben Goh, a father of 2, felt “a little neglected” in the beginning. But when he realised how hard his wife was working to breastfeed their babies, he decided that there were other forms of support he could provide.

“Knowing that what my wife was doing was the best for our child’s health, it motivated me to try to encourage her to go on since I could see it was very tiring for her,” said Ben. “I helped her when she needed to pump her milk, and then massaged her when she needed it. I also gave her water as well as warmed-up a lavender pillow when she had swollen breasts.”

Ben, left, with his wife Xiuwen (in black top) and their little ones. [Credits: Kwan Xiuwen]

He also knew that giving support need not be just physical; sometimes, a nursing mother and her baby just need space. “I always try to allow her to breastfeed comfortably and giving her ample time to feed our baby. This will be the time that I will try not to disturb her,” Ben added.

As his wife is still nursing their younger child, he continues to provide her space by taking care of their older boy. “I will tend to our older son when my wife needs to nurse the younger one,” said Ben.

Daddy the Bodyguard

While physical and mental support go a long way, defending the mother’s, and inevitably the family’s, decision to breastfeed a baby is one way that dads find they can contribute in making mothers feel positively. For Suhardi Suradi, a father of three boys, supporting his wife was a natural decision.

Suhardi Suradi with his three musketeers. Supporting his wife in her breastfeeding journey was a natural decision. [Credits: Atiqah Halim]

“I am proud that my wife breastfeeds. As first time parents, we were pressured by some people who are not pro-breastfeeding, who gave comments like “the baby is hungry”, “baby is not drinking enough”, “baby needs to drink plain water”. It helps that both of us are stubborn, ignoring these myths and just continue with our breastfeeding journey,” said Suhardi.

While he jokes that he doesn’t need to wake up at night to feed the baby, and just has to tap his wife to tend to the baby when he stirs at night for milk, Suhardi does something that may seem mundane but extremely helpful for his wife who works full-time: “I will help my wife wash & clean & sterilize her pump parts every morning before going to work.” This sort of simple help is invaluable in supporting mothers by removing some of their mental load and easing their burdens.

While we acknowledge that some fathers do feel that they cannot do much when baby is spending so much time at mummy’s breast, we are extremely heartened to discover from our survey that an overwhelming number of mothers have stated that their husbands have done so much more than feeding in order to establish a positive relationship, not just with the baby, but also with the mother.

Respecting the mother’s wish to breastfeed is one thing, but to take on other roles and chores, especially proactively, is something that deserves mention and recognition.

GUIDELINES FOR DADS

Based on the findings, there is a clear correlation between the extent of the husband’s presence with the confidence and satisfaction that mothers have towards breastfeeding. It also goes to show that breastfeeding, for these families, is not just the mother’s choice but also a family effort. If it takes both the mother and father to bring a baby into existence, these families knew that the next step would be to care for the baby together, including when breastfeeding becomes the family’s choice for breastfeeding.

We surveyed mothers online and in our workshops and meetings and compiled a non-exhaustive list of the things that dads have done or can do for their wives:

Physical Support:

  • Prepare a comfortable space for the breastfeeding mother and baby
  • Prioritise mum’s comfort: place pillows, snacks, fan/aircon remote, refill water bottles to be placed near mum’s breastfeeding space
  • Give back and shoulder massages when mum is tired and aching from breastfeeding for long periods of time
  • Carry babies to mum especially in the early days of postpartum or when she is tandem feeding
  • Wake up and change baby’s diaper before a night feed and carry him to give mum a chance to get up slowly
  • Bathe baby and change baby’s diapers
  • When baby no longer needs to feed and wants to settle, offer to carry or burp baby
  • Bring baby out if baby is fussy (and when mum needs a breather)
  • Help with the washing: breastpump, accessories, bottles, soiled bedsheets, soiled laundry
  • Do other chores around the house without being asked: put in the laundry, do the cleanup, tend to the mess left by older children. If you are hiring an external helper, do the calling and setting of appointment
  • If outside, help her put on her nursing cover or manage other baby gear and accessories (diaper bag, baby carrier, pump bag if she is exclusively pumping)
  • Helping to remove milk or relieve a blocked duct

Support from dads are extremely crucial and valuable to mums. [Image for illustration]

Mental and Emotional Support:

  • Provide encouraging and positive words when mums are facing challenges
  • Spend time with her when she is caught up with breastfeeding; talk to her and to baby, talk about other things so that she does not get bored (current affairs, latest movies, romance your partner)
  • Be her main pillar of support; bounce ideas with her, accompany her thought process when she needs to make important breastfeeding decisions
  • Be gentle with her even when she is all riled-up; her hormones are a hot mess
  • Sometimes, all she needs is a hug, cuddle or a shoulder to cry/rest on – these will also give you both some boost of oxytocin
  • Defend her especially in public social settings when her decision to breastfeed is being questioned

Ample Preparation to Provide Support to Wives:

  • Read up on breastfeeding with your partner during pregnancy
  • Find helpful links and resources when she needs some help troubleshooting obstacles
  • Understand why exactly breastfeeding is good for the baby
  • Share your knowledge and experiences with other dads who are expecting babies so that they can also support their wives better
  • Accompany her to antenatal and/or breastfeeding classes – take notes, ask questions, ask how exactly you can help if you are unsure

Conclusion

From the survey and interviews we have conducted, we are assured that getting dads on board with supporting their partners is not something new and is good for the growing family. Mothers are not meant to feel alone and fathers can educate themselves in learning how to support their breastfeeding spouse.

Mothers have also shown that they appreciate it when their partners show more proactivity in other areas of childminding, and not just in the areas of breastfeeding – there is so much else that needs to be done and this does not necessarily mean that a father’s bond with his baby will be affected.

Breastfeeding may take two long years of a child’s life conventionally, but there is a lifetime left after that that dads can be involved in their baby’s life. It’s just about finding a way to be involved, and being a true companion and team member, in their joint decision to breastfeed their children.

Newsletter #34: Role of Dads in Breastfeeding Families (Part 1)

By BMSG Editorial Team

This is Part 1 of our newsletter article that discusses and offers suggestions on what fathers can do to support their breastfeeding wives. Part 1 focuses on the findings of a survey that we conducted on breastfeeding mothers to find out what form of support they most valued from their partners. Part 2 (to be released) will focus on speaking to dads who are supportive of and have assisted their breastfeeding wives, as well as line out suggestions of tasks and actions that fathers have done for other fathers to emulate.

 

Background

At BMSG, we have long recognised that a mother’s feeling of satisfaction towards breastfeeding has always been centred on the support that she receives from the people around her. From the hospital to bringing baby home and hereinafter, how a mother feels towards breastfeeding and how she progresses after are almost always tied to whom she anchors her support on.

There are many forms of this support. While we know that mothers love having a mummy tribe of their own, we have also learnt from mothers that how much their husbands do to support them in their breastfeeding journey is key to their eventual satisfaction towards breastfeeding.

The WHO recommendation on what fathers can do as part of the breastfeeding family. 
[Credits: World Health Organization]

Recently, we came up with a survey to find out just what sort of support mothers really need from their husbands and what they feel about dads helping out. We listed tasks that we felt mothers might appreciate from their husbands, citing examples from those that are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) in an earlier campaign. While we understand that “help” can be defined differently from family to family, we wanted to know how exactly mothers felt about the amount of help that they are/were receiving or feel that they need more of.

Intent

Another huge part of our intent in creating this survey is also to counter the perception that breastfeeding alienates the father, a reason that many mothers whom we counsel cite as the cause for tension between parents when it comes to breastfeeding their babies. In our counselling cases, some mothers have claimed that their partners feel this way because the breastfeeding mother seems to be spending lots of time breastfeeding the baby.

Screenshot of the New York Times article about a father’s feelings of helplessness and being left out as he watches his wife tries to breastfeed their then-newborn child.

In a recent New York Times article [What Baby Formula Does for Fathers], the writer, who is a father of two, recalls the helplessness he felt as he watched his wife trying to establish breastfeeding with their first newborn. Yet, after days of trying and eventually resulting to formula for reasons of inability to latch the baby well, the writer eventually states this: “Now that I had tasted this (the satisfaction of being able to feed a baby with the bottle), it seemed a little unfair that only my wife would have gotten to enjoy it.”

It was startling that the writer went on to belittle the benefits of breastfeeding, and it was also oddly apparent that nothing was being said about his wife’s feelings towards the turn of events. The saddest moment in the article was the final words of the article: when his second son was born, his wife yet again attempted to breastfeed. Yet, his parting remarks would definitely cut the heart of any mother who wants to try: “Part of me was hoping for the experiment to fail, which it eventually did. I didn’t want to miss out on all those endless hours of providing my baby with exactly what he needed.”

While we definitely do not want to dismiss the fact that many dads feel the same way as they watch their wives breastfeed their young babies for long hours, as mothers ourselves, we also know that there is more to raising a child; breastfeeding is only one of the many long list of things to do.

The Results

But before that, let us present the results and let the facts speak for themselves.

As mentioned before, our survey consisted of a list of specific tasks that we felt dads could do for mothers and the family in general. The following screenshot of the survey highlights the tasks:

What we found:

  • Close to 50 respondents (out of a total of 81 at the time of writing) cited that their husbands were already doing almost all or all of the items listed – this was extremely heartening to know!
  • Over 60 mothers reported that their husbands were already doing the following tasks:
    • Changing baby’s diapers and other non-feeding tasks (68 mothers)
    • Helping out with other chores around the house (63 mothers)
    • Simply being a listening ear (63 mothers)
    • Giving me positive encouragement and empathising words (64 mothers)
    • Defending my choice to breastfeed (64 mothers)

Instagram screengrab of the heartmelting moment when Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock, fed his wife food as she was breastfeeding their newborn. [Credits: The Rock’s Instagram account]

  • 59 mothers also wrote positive and touching examples of how their husbands supported their wives, be it physically, mentally or emotionally. Here are some of them (we have so many more we couldn’t include!):
    • Yes I am satisfied with my husband’s involvement. In the early days, he would wake up to change the baby’s diapers, bring baby to me for feeds, then burp baby and put him back to bed. I appreciate the small acts of help, such as setting up my nursing corner at home (prop up pillow, refill my water cup, switch on the fan/aircon etc), assisting me with the nursing cover in public, helping to keep a look out for me in public, feeding me food while I nurse baby. He doesn’t question my decision to breastfeed the baby, and have always been encouraging in his words and actions. He also helped to explain to his parents the benefits of breastfeeding, and how breastmilk can complement solids. Now that my baby is 1, and I have reached my long term goal, he doesn’t question when will I wean but is supportive of my intentions to gentle wean. He would listen whenever I tell him about an article I read etc. He also directs his colleagues/friends who are new mothers to me when he heard that they may need support with breastfeeding their newborn. He helps me to wash and sterilise my pump parts when I get home from work, and also reminds me to refrigerate the milk. He has also taught his mother how to handle the breast milk when I had to be away for work and she was my baby’s carer back in the days when I was still working on weekends.

    • Yes. He is already helping more than he should I feel. He made our parenthood easier for transition. He has made sure that I have enough rest to make it through the day and night. We took turns to ensure we have our own time for rest and at the same time looking after our newborn. He has been very helpful, diligent, proactive, positive and really loving towards me and baby throughout this journey.

    • My husband has been and is already setting the environment right for me to breastfeed our son from the start. He has been all out in ensuring that my pump parts are sanitized for pumping, also, has been the one helping with the chores at home & wholeheartedly supporting me in this entire journey. If it was not for his endless support from the beginning, I don’t think the journey would be any less easier. I’m grateful that I’ve been blessed with an understanding husband.

    • What I appreciate most is my husband staying up just to accompany me while I direct latch. He will talk to me and baby so that I will not feel bored or lonely. This time spent together is really precious and I am glad he is willing to sacrifice his sleep for this. Right after baby is done feeding, he will also take over and help to burp and change her diapers.

    • My husband is fully supportive of my choices and my approach to nursing my children. I nursed my son till he was 5 and my daughter is still nursing (she will be 4 this year) and he has always defended my choice to others who have their own (less than encouraging) opinions about this.

    • When I have blocked ducts, he tries his best to be there for me and has even tried to help massage the blocked duct out.

    • I know he would defend my breastfeeding choices in public when the need arises. He is not shy about me breastfeeding in public, either. He even helps me to adjust my nursing cover and carry our baby once I finish nursing.

    • I’m lucky to have a Paediatrician and IBCLC husband. This is something new for us to parent a preemie, breastfed baby, but at least we know the theories and we work together to make it work. So, I have received full support from the very beginning.

Maxamillian Neubauer became an Internet sensation when a photograph of him breastfeeding his newborn daughter using a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) went viral. His wife had post-birth complications and was not able to breastfeed their baby. [Credits: smalljoy.tv]

  • While many of the respondents claimed that their husbands were already supporting them physically and emotionally, some of the husbands went beyond that. Some husbands became their wive’s biggest advocates and were well read on breastfeeding before and after pregnancy, and were ready to defend the family’s choice to breastfeed in social settings (i.e. in front of family, friends etc.)
    • So very satisfied. I have an amazing husband who can and does everything except lactate. I am aware that I am truly blessed. Before the birth of our first child, he attended antenatal classes with me, read up on breastfeeding, defended our decision to breastfeed against my mother-in-law and even tested out the breast pump on himself. He is a strong advocate of breastfeeding and never hesitates to encourage his friends to support their wives in breastfeeding too, even sharing breastfeeding knowledge.

  • We also saw a small percentage of mothers who wished that their husbands could do more; less than 10 mentioned that their partners were not supportive of breastfeeding in the first place and hence, were not forthcoming in helping these mums with breastfeeding-related duties
    • No . Husband has not been supportive. He kept urging me to give our baby formula after he turned six months as he believed it is better and can fatten baby up. I refused to give in and turned to Facebook support groups for mothers. I have managed to breastfeed my elder child till 45 months old when she self-weaned when I was 7 months pregnant with her younger sibling. I’m still breastfeeding my second child who is 15.5m month-old now, unsurprisingly with no emotional and mental support from husband. Friends, and breastfeeding groups for mothers are my support systems!

    • Not 100% satisfied. My husband shows his unhappiness frequently every time I sought his help to take care of  baby  when I needed to pump or when I was exhausted.

  • Less than 5 respondents also said that while their husbands were trying their best, they wished that husbands would do things without being asked i.e. take a more proactive stance in helping mothers
    • As a breastfeeding mother, I would like my husband to help me more on caring our children. Just a simple change of diaper every night will do. I am not saying that my husband is not doing anything; he does what I asks him to do. Instead, I would like my husband to proactively offer some help without me asking for it or make me feel better just by saying “go rest, you are tired” because I was really exhausted and emotionally low during postpartum.

We were heartened that there was already a significant number of husbands out there, also a large number potentially untapped through our survey, who were already supporting their wives. This affirmed our beliefs that breastfeeding does not need to make a father feel alienated or helpless; he simply needs to redefine the assistance and support he can give his wife and child(ren). There are many other things a husband can do; breastfeeding is just one of the areas of caregiving and most importantly, it is the love and bond that transpire between a mother and father that greatly determines the happiness of the child.

In Part 2 (to be released soon), we speak to some fathers who have supported their breastfeeding wives to find out what they feel about the experience, as well as roll out a guideline of tasks that fathers have done that can be emulated by future and current fathers. Stay tuned!