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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 #33: Breastfeeding & Caesarean Sections

By the BMSG Editorial Team

Some mothers-to-be know that they are going to have a Caesarean-section, but some end up in the operating theatre with an emergency C-section – and may not know what to expect. Either way, you absolutely can breastfeed even after a C-section. Forewarned is forearmed; what are some of the difficulties of nursing after a major surgery and how can you prepare for them?

1.     General anaesthesia vs local anaesthesia

Most C-sections in Singapore are carried out under local anaesthesia; that is, a spinal block or epidural. With an epidural, mothers will be awake throughout the entire procedure and can even have skin-to-skin in the operating theatre. Having an epidural also means that once the baby is ready to be passed to you, you can initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible, whereas with GA, you may not be able to meet baby for a few hours after the procedure as you slowly awaken from the strong anaesthetic. In fact, both baby and you may be too groggy at the beginning to breastfeed effectively. However, even if you need to undergo GA for medical reasons, you can still breastfeed your baby.

Deborah Su, a mum of two children, breastfeeding her baby post-operation. (Photo credits: Deborah Su)

2.     After-effects of anaesthesia

Many mothers will endure some side-effects of anaesthesia, such as uncontrollable trembling, chills, and nausea. These side-effects can be quite strong as the dose of anaesthesia that is given for open surgery is much higher than the dose for a vaginal birth.

One mother, JoBeth Williams, recalls that she was trembling so hard after surgery that she did not dare to carry her baby at first as she was afraid she would drop her. It was not until the trembling subsided after about half an hour that she was able to initiate the first latch. Another mother, Wendy Sim, experienced dizziness and severe nausea for up to nine hours after the procedure. Wendy shared that even though she had such extreme side-effects, she persevered in having her baby close to her so that they could benefit from skin-to-skin contact. Despite this seemingly rocky start, both JoBeth and Wendy went on to have smooth breastfeeding journeys with their babies!

A mother who has had a c-section can initiate breastfeeding just like she would with a normal delivery,

Also, remember that after delivery, a C-section baby may be quite sleepy as she also feels the after-effects of the anaesthesia. Skin-to-skin contact will certainly help, as will rubbing baby’s feet or chest to rouse her. Secondly, C-section babies may post a higher birth weight and slightly higher initial weight loss due to IV fluids given during the surgery. Keep this in mind, as studies have shown that babies whose mothers received more IV fluids before birth urinated more during their first 24 hours and as a result lost more weight. Therefore you should not worry too much about a slightly higher initial weight loss, as long as you can see baby is drinking well and producing the right amount of wet and dirty diapers.

Wendy shared that even though she had such extreme side-effects, she persevered in having her baby close to her so that they could benefit from skin-to-skin contact. Despite this seemingly rocky start, both JoBeth and Wendy went on to have smooth breastfeeding journeys with their babies!

3.     Protecting your wound while nursing baby

The C-section wound can be very tender and painful in the first few days or even weeks. Many mothers have difficulties bending, sitting up, and walking. Try and arrange for as much help as possible to have baby brought to you, or safely co-sleep with your infant so that you do not have to move too much. Mother of four Chng Bee Wee recalls how after all her C-sections, all she did was rest in bed and breastfeed!

You can also experiment to figure out which breastfeeding holds work best for you. Many websites will recommend side-lying to nurse, but some mothers actually find this very difficult as the wound is not comfortable when lying on the side. You may find it easier (although it might take a bit longer for you to get ready) to sit up and nurse with cradle hold instead. Deborah Su, who had two C-sections, is one of many mothers who prefer to use a breastfeeding pillow which can help to protect the wound area, while other mothers may find that the pillow presses on the wound and is very uncomfortable. Many lactation consultants recommend the football hold as this keeps baby’s body away from the wound, but again, some mothers find the position unnatural while others welcome how easy it is!

In the end, it is really a matter of figuring out what works for you! The most important thing is to keep an open mind and be willing to try as many things as possible so you can decide what is the most comfortable and effective position for you and baby to breastfeed in.

Nursing pillows can help to cushion the c-sect wound during breastfeeding.

4.     Preparing for your milk to kick in

Contrary to popular belief, a C-section actually does not affect how fast your milk comes in. Since milk production is kickstarted by the removal of the placenta from the uterus, a mother who has had a C-section will make milk at the same rate as a mother who has had a vaginal birth. As always, it is important to nurse your baby on demand and latch baby as often as he cues for it with rooting motions, small sounds, and rubbing his face with his hands. The best way to get your milk supply up and running is to tell your breasts to make more by nursing your baby as often as possible.

Since you will likely be at the hospital for a couple of days, make use of your time there to get as much assistance from the hospital lactation consultants as possible. Enlist your hospital LC to help you attach baby to the breast as soon as possible after delivery, and ask for them to check the baby’s latch and milk transfer if you are not sure if things are right. Don’t forget that you can and should continue to seek professional support after going home! Nurul Huda Alkhatib was lucky to have picked a hospital with a proactive parent support system. “The lactation clinic from the hospital called me post-discharge just to ask how I was doing and if my breastfeeding was okay. They assured me that I could just call them if I had any questions or worries,” she says.

Ask your doctor for breastfeeding-friendly painkillers.

5.     Ease your pain

Some mothers are afraid to take painkillers, worried about the effects that the medication might have on baby. Don’t worry – after a C-section, it is standard practice for doctors to prescribe antibiotics and painkillers that are safe for breastfeeding; if you are concerned, it is always good to check in with your gynaecologist or even the nurses in the maternity ward.

Why is it important to take your meds? Firstly, the antibiotics serve to ward off possible infection of your wound. Secondly, remember that a C-section is in fact major surgery, and you need to take care of yourself as well. This includes relieving any post-operative pain, especially if it is making it difficult for you to cope with caring for your baby or even with day-to-day life. While it is true that what you eat and drink while you are breastfeeding make their way into your milk supply, where it can then be transferred to your nursing baby, it is important to remember that your baby only gets a tiny fraction of what you put into your body – and that these breastfeeding-friendly medicines, at their appropriate dosages, should not have an adverse effect on your nursing baby. Of course, the painkillers are optional, and if you are able to manage well with your level of unmedicated pain, you may wish to go without.

Surround yourself with good support and getting your partner on board can make way for a smooth start to breastfeeding.

6.     Surrounding yourself with support

One thing that all the C-section mums we spoke to agreed on was that support was vital to successful breastfeeding. Some mothers recruited their relatives to help out, such as their own mothers or sisters who fully supported their decision to exclusively breastfeed their baby. Others were lucky enough to have spouses who could make flexible work arrangements to stay home and help. Some of them were even able to hire pro-breastfeeding confinement nannies who were knowledgeable and experienced in assisting C-section mothers nurse their babies.

This sort of support is invaluable also in settling things like all the household chores and childcare for older kids so that the new mama can stay in bed, rest, recuperate, and concentrate on feeding the newborn. According to mother of two Ashtalaxmi Dinakaran, having a supportive husband and family was crucial when it came to breastfeeding. Nurul Huda agrees, saying, “If my mother had not given me words of encouragement, to remind me to pump especially when I was already so exhausted, I don’t think I would have the perseverance to exclusively breastfeed for the last 11 months.”

Another way that your support network can help is to prop mama up in her decision to breastfeed. Nili Seah, who has a baby daughter, absolutely hated people asking her to give the bottle to baby, as well as other unconstructive remarks. “I feel that I want to nurse her whenever we both feel she needs or just wants to nurse,” she says. Making sure that you have someone solidly on your side at home can be really uplifting for a vulnerable new mother, who needs encouragement that she is doing the right thing for her baby.

“I feel that I want to nurse her whenever we both feel she needs or just wants to nurse,”