Monday, February 15, 2010


A 2000 study of new moms in Pennsylvania showed that the primary reason for initiating bottle-feeding over breastfeeding was the mother’s perception of the father’s preference (Arora, 2000).  Dads’ education and interest in baby feeding naturally have a big impact on the decision to breastfeed and the success of the breastfeeding effort.  It can be direct: a knowledgeable dad can play a direct role in baby feeding, such as by observing and assisting with latching positions.  It can be indirect too: a supportive dad gives encouragement and anticipates needs (Tohotoa, 2009), like taking care of housework or holding the baby while mom showers or rests. Another highlight of the 2009 Tohotoa study was that “fathers participating in the study all wanted to be involved with parenting and parenthood, but many of them felt they were unprepared and lacked the relevant information to be effective in their parenting role.” If we could do a better job of educating fathers, moms could be more empowered in baby feeding. 

I would never have gotten as far as I did with nursing if it weren’t for Sam’s dad, Max.  The two of us together agreed while I was pregnant to breastfeed, based on evidence that breast milk is healthier for the baby. During the two weeks we spent trying to breastfeed, he was extremely supportive.  He sat in on sessions with the lactation consultant and reminded me of her advice during feeding sessions.  He provided physical support, arranging the baby, pillows, and even Sam’s jaw and lips, helping get the job done, around the clock.    Moreover, he provided critical emotional support, listening patiently to my outpourings about how much pain I was in, how awful I felt, how desperately I wanted to feed my baby. And when we thought we would need to switch to formula, he supported that too.  Later, when I started pumping full-time, he continued to encourage me and took care of Sam while I pumped.  He deserves a big chunk of the credit for us eventually finding a system that worked. 

He told me recently that he never really understood exactly how I felt.  I tried to explain the pain and resulting emotional torment as presenting your arm, once every two hours, to have a cigarette put out on it--for the first few times, you can endure it, but eventually you begin to feel beaten down, depressed, intimidated.  I think he understood the analogy, but the truth is that real empathy can only come from other women who have been through it.  (More on support from other women later.)  Nonetheless, he was a full partner in every way he could be, and my son and I are lucky to have him.

1.      Tohotoa, J.; Maycock, B.; Hauck, Y. L.; Howat, P.; Burns, S; Binns, C. W. “Dads make a difference: an exploratory study of paternal support for breastfeeding in Perth, Western Australia.” International Breastfeeding Journal 2009, 4:15.

2.     Arora, S.; McJunkin, C.; Wehrer, J.; Kuhn, P. “Major Factors Influencing Breastfeeding Rates: Mother’s Perception of Father’s Attitude and Milk Supply.” From the Family Medicine Department and the Research Center, Hamot Medical Center, Erie, Pennsylvania. 2000.


  1. So very true! I admit I kind of just said "this is what i'm doing, it's the best, and the part you will like the bset if that it's free, got it?" And even with his inexperience with babies and all things related, he helped by getting pillows or water or spit cloths or just telling people that I had to feed the baby, to quiet down, or leave, or whatever it may be. Never once did he say "just give him a bottle" or "give him formula" which was nice for me and totally let me be in charge of all aspects of babyfeeding. He asked how long are you supposed to nurse for, I said at least a year, and when we went over, he never said "aren't you done yet?" like most people would say to me, made it so much easier on me and I never felt tense or apprehensive or judged by him, just supported. Of course he defers to me for most child-rearing anyways =)

  2. Awww, Max is such a good boy!

    Eric didn't really care how the boys got fed, as long as they were eating. He had the first bottle of the morning duty, so I could shower every day, but after that, most of the feeding was up to me. One difference I noted in feeding between Aidan and Ken, was that with Aidan I was often impatient and wanted him to hurry up and eat because I had other things to do. It seemed like feedings would go on forever . . . But when Kenny came along, I realized how fast those first months go, and how, in the fog of sleeplessness, you quickly forget the tender, snuggly moments that go along with feeding. I made it a point to try to enjoy the time spent feeding Kenny more than I did with Aidan.

  3. oh now that's interesting Tabitha, because I feel the opposite! I was so relaxed with the first but with this one I always am needing to see what the older one is doing, and what he's getting into, etc. How far apart are your boys? Mine are just over 2 yrs apart (2.5 and 5 months now)

  4. My boys are 4 1/2 years apart. (Aidan is headed for 9 1/2, Kenny will be 5 next month.)

    I think I was less patient with feeding Aidan because I hadn't yet adapted to the length of time that things take to do with an infant, even though I was completely aware of it from working at the day care! When it was my job, I had no problem sitting still to feed, but when my house was messy and the cat wanted to be patted and there were errands to do -- I really struggled with just sitting and enjoying that time with him.