The Breastfeeding Dad

Photography: Poppy Peterson | www.poppypeterson.com.au

By Emma Pickett, IBCLC

I worked with a new family for the second time today. I won’t go into too much detail but things aren’t going well with breastfeeding and mum is in a lot of discomfort.

As I left them today with plans to see them next week, I knew absolutely that the dad was holding them all together. I am not doubting the determination or commitment of that brand new mother recovering from her difficult birth and finding life was tough, but that father – of only a few days – had precisely the strength that his new family needed.

He sat quietly while she described her experiences and her perception of what was going wrong, he gently prompted and corrected when it was appropriate to do so and all the time he gave off this force that said, “I know we can do this. I know this is the best thing. We are going to make this work.” He actually said out loud, “We believe in this.”

At one point mum was concerned she might not be able to go on, and he said softly, “The low point was two nights ago. You’ve come really far since then. Things are getting better,” and he explained how. And she said, “Yeah, you’re right,” and calmed immediately.

He praised her without being sappy. He took the baby to calm him at just the right moments. He listened carefully to what was discussed because he knew he was part of this breastfeeding thing too.

Let’s just assume for practical purposes that this bloke must be a prat in other ways as no one could be that perfect – however he absolutely knew how to be a breastfeeding dad.

He knew that in the middle of the night, when she felt she just couldn’t cope, it mattered that he’d paid attention to the right positioning and latching. Not least because sometimes it really helps to have that second pair of eyes looking from a different angle and observing whole body position.

Let’s just assume for practical purposes that this bloke must be a prat in other ways as no one could be that perfect – however he absolutely knew how to be a breastfeeding dad.

And I see a lot of dads like that.

It’s surprisingly often that it’s dad who calls the National Breastfeeding Helpline. It’s clear something wasn’t going right and for whatever reason mum couldn’t face making that call. So dad does and almost always manages to get mum on the phone in the end.

And it’s dads who research where the breastfeeding groups are, phone the lactation consultants, get the troops lined up when things aren’t going well. They give mum the space she needs and over and over again manage to maneuver the support just when it’s needed. Yes, sure, some of that is because men like to try and solve problems. They see a difficulty and want to fix it in the face of feeling somewhat helpless. But these same ‘helpless men’ come to consultations and express their worries while empowering and supporting their wives at the same time. It’s a subtle and impressive skill. Especially when you’re sleep-deprived.

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