Dad's Role in Breastfeeding

by Tom Johnston

If you are reading this column, you and your wife are probably expecting a beautiful baby, to which I say congratulations! You are already well on your way down the path of parenthood. Make no mistake you become a parent long before your baby is born, just as your child knows both mom and dad long before he or she is born.

The road that you are on will be tough; it will lead you through countless trials and conquests, ups and downs, and twists and turns. I am very fond of saying that parenting is a contact sport, but the rewards are tremendous. Each new skill, each new word, every new step you experience as your child grows is an exciting and miraculous journey down the road of life.

Enjoy the journey, the hard times and the easy times. Nothing in life compares.

There is so much to say about your role in breastfeeding that I just can't squeeze it in to the space limitations of one article, so we will look at the role of the father in two parts. The first part will explore the roles of each member of the breastfeeding team (Mom, Dad, and Baby). The second part will actually get down into the mechanics of breastfeeding. You will learn to assess what a "good latch" looks like and help you develop the skills you will need to help your family breastfeed.

As a midwife, a lactation consultant and a father of seven beautiful breastfed babies I'm often asked to share my perspectives with new parents. First, let me say, I have found through personal and professional practice that almost everything is hard the first few days or weeks with a new baby and breastfeeding is no different. You will do yourself a favor if you prepare for the challenges ahead by learning all you can before your progeny is born.

I encourage you to talk to your health care provider, your lactation consultant, and especially friends who have successfully breastfed for more than six months. Learning from successful and experienced breastfeeding friends is a good way to get honest accurate information and avoid the myths that make breastfeeding so very challenging.

I warn you to ignore the advice of couples who failed at breastfeeding, as their perspectives, while honest, may not always be accurate. Nothing teaches better than success.

Before we can talk about your role in breastfeeding, we have to answer the most fundamental question in the breastfeeding, why would anyone want to breastfeed? In the old days we used to talk about the benefits of breastfeeding, and you will still hear some people mention it, but not me. Believe it or not, breastfeeding doesn't make your baby bigger, stronger, faster, or smarter. Breastfeeding doesn't make him super human, it just makes him human.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) breastfeeding is the "physiologic norm" and rather than talking about the benefits of breastfeeding, they refer to "the risks of not breastfeeding." That is to say that not breastfeeding has significant health risks for the infant.

The problem is that infant formula is incomplete nutrition, it is missing several essential nutrients that a growing baby needs. Many people become offended at the notion that formula feeding is substandard nutrition, you will hear them defend their formula feeding history, but there is no hiding the fact, incomplete nutrition will always affect your long term health.

There are indeed risks to formula feeding, just like there are risks to eating fast food every day. If you eat fast food three meals a day for two years you would be weaker and slower, too. There is no doubt about it, inadequate nutrition is inadequate growth.

Breastfeeding is perfect nutrition and as a human mammal your child is designed to drink human milk made especially for him, by his mother. If you don't believe me, there are more than 4000 well designed clinical trials, and hundreds of other sources to prove my point. Honestly, if you don't think that formula is substandard nutrition you have been purposely hiding from the truth and nothing I say here will help change your mind.