Newsletter #34: Role of Dads in Breastfeeding Families

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 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 would appreciate from their husbands, citing examples from those that are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) awhile back. 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 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, recalls the helplessness he felt as he watched his wife trying to establish breastfeeding their newborn. Yet, after days of trying and eventually resulting to formula for reasons of inability to latch, 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 role out some guidelines of tasks that fathers have done that can be emulated by future and current fathers. Stay tuned!