Friday, February 15, 2008

7 ways fathers can support breastfeeding

Photo by *clairity*

Arugaan, one of the leading NGO advocates for breastfeeding in the Philippines, recently organised a father's support summit. This inspired me to reflect on my own husband's role in supporting me to breastfeed our three children.

Here are the seven ways my husband supports breastfeeding:

1. He supported my natural childbirths. I decided early on to have drug-free, natural childbirths -- which means that I needed DH (darling husband) to be my labor coach and advocate. While he turned pale the first time he watched a childbirth video, he was a real trooper when it came to the real thing. He breathed with me, gave me massages, walked hospital halls with me, discussed options with me, held my hand when I pushed, and supported my weight when I squatted.

Having a natural birth meant that both my baby and I were fully conscious and alert right after birth, and I was able to bring baby to the breast right away.

2. He allowed me to room in with our babies. When I first gave birth 13 years ago, rooming in was almost unheard of and the resident pediatrician was hesitant to allow us. There was a hint of threat when she said that we would need to sign a waiver that the hospital was no longer responsible for whatever happened to the baby if we insisted on rooming in. It didn't help that we were completely unprepared for the birth and our newborn didn't have any clothes yet (everybody said primie's arrive late!). I almost gave in. DH looked me in the eye and said, "What will happen if our baby goes to the nursery?" "They might give her a bottle," I replied. Without further ado, DH told the doctor that we were rooming in.

Rooming in helps mother and baby get a good start in breastfeeding by allowing unlimited opportunities to breastfeed. Babies in nurseries can only be breastfed at set times, which often do not coincide with a baby's hunger. The end result is that many babies receive a bottles of formula and/or glucose water in the nursery and get soothed with a pacifier.

3. He took over caring for our older children. When you have two or more children, there's always somebody else demanding your attention away from the newborn baby. DH helped by taking over some of the child care tasks, such as reading bedtime stories and tucking older children into bed. He made sure our naps were undisturbed. I could focus on the new baby for at least a few weeks.

A mother and baby need time to settle into a good breastfeeding routine. Each baby is different, so even if a mother has breastfed in the past, she'll still need time to adjust to a new baby. It helps if the mother is allowed to rest, recover from the birth, and have plenty of time alone with the new baby.

4. He woke up in the middle of the night to take care of the baby. Breastfed babies rarely need any attention at night, except to latch onto the breast. Because of this, I got pretty spoiled and didn't want to get up from bed at all. Therefore, DH had to change the baby's diaper at night and -- if the baby happened to be in a playful rather than sleepy mood at 2 am -- take over baby duties and bring baby back into bed to me when asleep. Some women feel sorry for their spouses who are at work during the daytime. However, mother, father and baby all benefit from father's night time involvement.

Mothers need plenty of rest especially right after childbirth. Lack of sleep can interfere with a good breastmilk supply. By getting up with the baby, DH allowed me to catch as much sleep as I could. It was also a wonderful opportunity for him to bond with the baby. Besides, a Mom is also at work during the daytime even if she stays home!

5. He is proud when I breastfed in public. I am more embarrassed than DH about breastfeeding in public. He believes I should do it more often to encourage more women to breastfeed. I am always willing to breastfeed my child (now 17 months old) whenever and wherever he wants to nurse, but of course, I would never want to expose myself. DH also comes in handy when I need something to shield me from curious eyes for a few seconds.

Women need support to breastfeed in public. Some women give a bottle when outside just to avoid this! Others give up breastfeeding altogether because they cannot overcome the embarrassment. If DH is not embarrassed, and is even proud, that his wife is breastfeeding, then the woman will have the confidence to breastfeed in public.

6. He never questioned my purchase of breastfeeding supplies and gadgets. Breastfeeding is supposed to be free, and it is, except for the cost of food for the mother and the value of her time. But if you're like me, you'll also want the best breast pumps, both manual and electric, a battery pack for the electric breastpump, fashionable breastfeeding clothes, five kinds of slings, breastfeeding pillows, breastfeeding books, malunggay pills, and other breastfeeding gadgets and tools. DH never once complained about my obsession and its cost.

These breastfeeding-related products are not essential to a successful breastfeeding relationship, but they do help. They make breastfeeding easier, more pleasant and more convenient. Anything that will keep a woman breastfeeding is well worth its price.

7. He promotes breastfeeding to everyone he knows. DH can sometimes be more militant than I am about breastfeeding. He tells every woman he knows who is pregnant or has recently given birth that they should breastfeed. And if they've stopped, he tells them to relactate. He tells other fathers to encourage their wives to breastfeed, too.

People need to know that fathers also care about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is not just something that hormone-crazed mothers go around telling other women to do. Fathers also benefit when mothers and children breastfeed successfully. They have a happier and healthier family, and the economic benefits are significant to any breadwinner (unless he happens to be married to me).

Kudos to all the men out there, fathers or not, who support and protect breastfeeding!