Dad's Role in Breastfeeding

For those who didn't breastfeed your children, it is important to understand that you are not bad parents. There are many barriers to breastfeeding in American society that makes breastfeeding much more challenging than it needs to be. It seems at times that everything is against you as a new mom or dad. You are tired, frustrated, and often frightened; you worry about keeping your baby healthy and you have heard all the frightening stories about how difficult breastfeeding is.

I strongly encourage you to talk to your local lactation consultants and other successful breastfeeding families about the barriers to breastfeeding that you may have faced. Often the things that made breastfeeding difficult or impossible will not be there the next time. Often, discussing the barriers in an open and effective manor with your health care provider will make those barriers disappear the next time around. I recommend clearing your mind of pre-conceived notions and learning from the experts around you to enhance your chances of success the next time around."

You will notice that I have taken great pains to welcome dad into the breastfeeding relationship, and I do that for a good reason. The only person with more influence over a mother's breastfeeding success than the father is the baby; and baby is already on board with this "choice." It is all he wants to do.

The value that dad brings to this relationship is often underplayed. When you watch TV, read stories, or even read your wife's precious pregnancy books you will be hard pressed to find much useful information on dad's job in breastfeeding. Most of the medical and nursing personnel you will meet assume that the father is either not able to help with breastfeeding, or simply not interested.

All the research available shows that they are wrong. As the father of the 21st Century I know you are smart, able, and interested in helping to make motherhood and breastfeeding as easy and successful as possible. I am certain that you are not only interested in breastfeeding but that you are uniquely talented at it.

Mothers consistently rate their husband's support as the most important contributing factor to breastfeeding success. The father is more important than grandmothers, best friends...you are even better than nurses, doctors, and lactation consultants.

Together, the mother, father, and baby will work to form a successful breastfeeding family. To enhance your family's chances of success everyone has to work together and focus their efforts on successful breastfeeding. So, let's talk about each member of the team.

The Mother's job is to put the baby "in the kitchen." That means that mom has to offer the baby the breast. You will notice that I didn't tell you that a mother feeds her baby, because she doesn't. The baby will feed himself. I always recommend (at least for the first few days or weeks) that the mother take off all the baby's clothes and put his naked chest right up against her bare chest. Once they are "skin-to-skin" cover the two with a blanket. That way the baby stays warm, and the mother stays modest.

With the baby in the kitchen, all you really have to do is wait for him to do his job. If you really feel the need you can coax him to nurse. You can talk to him, pet him, stroke his face and mouth and encourage him to feed, but ultimately the baby knows what he's doing and all you really have to do is be patient.

The Baby's job is demanding, but the healthy newborn is well prepared at birth. The baby has to identify the breast, he will wrap his cute little hands around it, put it where he needs it to be, open his mouth VERY wide and take the entire areola deep into his mouth, down his throat and suck and swallow until satisfied. The more breast tissue a baby takes in, the easier and more effective feeding will be.

Remember, it is the baby's job to feed himself. He is bright, energetic and ready to feed himself very soon after birth, usually within the first 48 hours. Don't rush him, being born is hard work and he is very tired after the adrenalin of birth wears off. If your healthy baby sleeps from 4 hours of life until 24 hours of life, he is still a normal newborn.