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.