What Dads Really Think About Breastfeeding

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Some of you will seen that TV chef Jamie Oliver was recently in the news for speaking about breastfeeding & being a breastfeeding husband. Naturally men cannot have a realistic understanding of breastfeeding; we simply don’t have breasts to nurse a child with. To some this precluded him from being able to share his opinion. He stated that breastfeeding was nutritional and easy; both widely accepted as fact. But it was his use of the word easy, which has really sparked outrage. The accusation of ‘mansplaining’ was levelled at Mr Oliver. A phrase that means men telling women about their own issues or bodies. Most Dads will be familiar with the concept if not with the word.

Breastfeeding dads P

The problem with that is that men do have experience in this area. They’re present for the breastfeeding and they can see how it impacts both mother and child. Men have to look after both. Ensuring the mother gets enough to eat, getting up at night to get the baby, putting the baby back to sleep after they’ve fed, discussing the merits with their partner. They’re not ignorant in this; they’re right alongside just unable to do the physical act. This isn’t a rant about not being included because fathers are already included and more importantly their experiences offer a different perspective.

Let me be clear, I reject that breastfeeding is easy. It wasn’t for us.

It started great. Our daughter took to breastfeeding like a duck to water; over time it became less so. My partner developed sores on her nipple’s. One became infected which eventually meant she couldn’t feed from it. She stopped producing enough milk for our daughter. Which led to hourly feeds and the added stress that goes with it. Our daughter stopped putting on enough weight. Both of them developed thrush; which despite treatment reoccurred because they bounced it back between each other.

This turned into a sleep deprived nightmare. My partner stopped eating so much because between being exhausted and feeding every hour; she couldn’t manage it. Our  daughter was almost constantly crying because she was so hungry. Everyone told us the same thing. Keep breastfeeding. Just keep doing it. Breastmilk is best.

Which we knew. Of course we did. But telling two sleep deprived, frustrated, exhausted people that they have to continue in that nightmare doesn’t exactly go down well. Refusing to even talk about alternatives only made it worse. Me and my partner endlessly debated. Should we switch? Should we continue? No one gave us any advice that helped.

After two weeks I’d had enough. Had enough of watching my guilt ridden partner cry as she had to pull our daughter off her breast because she couldn’t stand the pain. I’d had enough of one hour naps all night. Enough of soothing my hungry daughter to sleep. And most of all I’d had enough of being told to keep going with it.

It was detrimental to the health of my partner, my child and our family to keep this up. So I bought the bottles, the formula and I fed it to my daughter.

It was the right decision.

Within days things were easier. Our daughter slept longer and was more satisfied after feeds. Her weight improved. We slept and ate with something approaching normality.
But we got disapproving words from the health visitor. Not so much as an acknowledgement of the improved situation.

I made that decision in spite of the advice. Because I could see things in a way my partner couldn’t. Not having to breastfeed meant I wasn’t under the pressure she was. I could see what it was doing to her.

My partner would have breastfed till her nipples fell off. The relentless advice to breastfeed left her feeling like the worst mother in the world.
It was me, the father, who put a stop to it. Because it was detrimental to my family to carry on.

Just because men can’t breastfeed doesn’t mean their insight as parents isn’t relevant. I could have very easily ducked my responsibility in this and let my partner make the decisions about how to proceed with breastfeeding. As I said before she felt she had to continue and wasn’t able to make a decision which included her welfare. This wasn’t because she was incapable but because she’d do anything for her child. She couldn’t countenance doing something that might not be in our child’s best interests. It’s my responsibility to look after her and that’s what I did.

Men have to support women through breastfeeding. Their welfare and that of the child is always the first concern. We aren’t doing the hard parts but we have as much to lose by things going wrong. So it’s important that our experiences are considered when talking about breastfeeding. This doesn’t mean overriding women but helping them see the whole picture. We can’t do that if our opinions are disregarded because of our gender.

Breastfeeding will remain a contentious issues between those who breastfeed and those who bottle feed. We will be breastfeeding again but won’t have any problems switching if problems occur. Neither should anyone else. Breast is best but every family is different. What’s works for one won’t necessarily work for another and that’s why it’s important to be aware of alternatives and seek alternative advice. Not breastfeeding doesn’t make a woman a terrible mother. The pressure my partner felt left her feeling depressed and isolated. If we all remember not to throw around judgements about other parents then we’ll all be much better off.

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14 Comments

  1. I wrote a post on the subject of public breaatfeeding.

    I basically stated that due to my Catholic upbringing I felt uncomfortable with it. But that was MY problem and not the breastfeeding mother.

    Neither of my children were breastfed. The first by the mothers choice, the second for medical reasons.

    With all aspects of parenting there are too many people sticking their nose into other peoples business. What some parents choose to do is different than others. That’s their choice.

    I prefer Mercedes cars to BMW’s do I go up to every BMW owner or post about them on social media NO.

    Let’s all get on with raisinf our kids to be happy, well adjusted people be that breast or bottle fed.

  2. And no one ever brought up for her to pump and bottle feed?! That would have been the best solution. She would have produced way more milk as well from a pump with great suction. Her nipples would’ve been saved as well as both your sanity.

  3. Raegon Guest on

    What an amazing article! We struggled with breastfeeding at the start, partly due to our son having a tongue tie, partly because just how hard it is totally took us by surprise! I went to the breastfeeding workshops before the birth and was reassured that it is the easiest thing in the world. Combine this message with the fact that I have always wanted to breastfeed, I headed into motherhood reassured that of all the tough readjustments that were about to come, feeding my child would be a doddle. I was heartbroken when it wasn’t and distraught when I was made to feel like it was because I was doing it wrong. I spoke to every helpline, buddy and support group going and without fail, their message was clear:if the latch is right, it won’t hurt. The message I heard: you can’t be latching properly because it is agony! My husband was so distressed to see me in such a state! We were so lucky to have a supportive and realistic health visitor and I couldn’t have done it without my husband! There absolutely needs to be more information out there from a realistic point of view and the vital part dads play in breastfeeding should be widely talked about! Well done and thank you Alex for being brilliant and talking about this!

  4. The best advice I received – after a drawn out, painful and emotional experience – was “feed the baby”. Nothing else matters.

    If it’s clear that the breastfeeding isn’t working, then switch to a bottle.

    We went through a traumatic experience with our son – breastfeeding seemed so easy at first, but then he had jaundice and it was clear he needed more milk and wasn’t getting enough, but top up feeds and stress impacted how much milk my wife produced, then she got mastitis, the hospital was crap, it got worse, no milk would come out at all etc. It was hell and we had to switch to the bottle. Similarly with our daughter, all was great but the baby’s technique meant my wife’s nipples were sore to the point of dropping off and the poor baby was feeding on blood sometimes. This time we knew to switch. OK, that had issues with her getting reflux, but at least she fed.

    So my advice, having a baby is tough, go easy on yourself and don’t put you, your partner or baby under unreasonable pressure to live up to the standards set by people that haven’t had it so tough. If switching to a bottle makes the baby happy and healthy and then means you/your family are happy and healthy too then that’s all you need.

  5. What “dads” think about breastfeeding or your personal experience with breastfeeding?
    Generalization : a basic principle that is accepted as true and that can be used as a basis for reasoning or conduct.

  6. Overall I enjoyed your article. My first wife struggled breast feeding our first two children and couldn’t not handle the intense pain after a couple of days, even trying creams and vegetables and with a lot of advice from the midwife and health visitor she gave up.

    My second partner (fiancee) overcame the pain and has breast fed our 4 children, including twins, without an issue and produced so much milk we tried to find someone to take it off our hands.

    The male in me struggled with the advice ‘breast is best’ and the pain they both went through. I tried to help but felt as useful as I did during labour. Once the mother had decided on what she wanted that was all I could do to support her.

    There are some things men should just keep out of and the breast feeding debate is one of them.

  7. My personal feelings are that breast IS best. Its portable, its free, its doesn tinvolve sterilizing a dozen bottles every day etc etc etc but all of this we know. I think as Dads, ALL we need to focus on what is best for baby, and best for mum. Breastfeeding is something we can never, as you rightly said, fully understand or empathize with. So what do we do? Listen and support. Period. Our first daughter Maeve was in ICU for her first 12 days so she got donor milk but then never latched. Our 2nd, Rosa never latched, we were given NO support in the hospital and post natally either. My wife chose to express using a double pump. This she did, every 3 hours, for 6 months. So the very best I could do as a Dad and a husband is SUPPORT.
    As men I think we just need to be careful how we word things – if we want to avoid confrontation – or, if we want to invite confrontation, and be less apologetic about how we speak, just be ready with positive, constructive answers.

  8. I wholeheartedly agree with a more balanced approach to breastfeeding and for parents to take stock and think carefully about whether it truly is the best decision in their circumstances.

    However, I find the tone of this article quite disturbing, particularly the manner in which you write about you making the decision to introduce formula without your partner, even going so far as to buy it and feed your child, apparently without her consent. As a parent, of course you should be able to participate in the decision-making around feeding, but so does your partner, and to over-ride her in such a way is worrying.

    Consider this statement “I could have very easily ducked my responsibility in this and let my partner make the decisions about how to proceed with breastfeeding.” Here you seem to glorify your decisive action, which could be seen as bullying or worse. This is a very dangerous precedent. What other decisions will you make completely autonomously because you consider her incapable? It appears likely that your partner is not upset by the outcome, since you have publicly written about it here, but you have a responsibility in writing about this in a public sphere to think about how others will receive such stories which encourage a man to over-ride his partner completely ‘for her welfare’.

    • I just made a similar point (before I read your comment) but far less eloquently than you! I was uncomfortable with this article too!

  9. You need to work on your biology bro, men CAN lactate. It’s not easy, but it is POSSIBLE.

    You also need to work on respecting your partner.

  10. Breast feeding is normally the best option however I have to agree on the side of our dear blogger in that a line has to be drawn when the benefits of Breast are to the detriment of too many other important factors of family life that could potentially have a bigger impact on baby short and long term. Modern society has changed, mum and dad generally both work so the burden and choices to be made should be shared as seen in Scandinavia . The notion of mum knows best and Dad can only voice his opinion if asked should be retired to times gone by but unfortunately the cultural norm is not that seen in Scandinavia with terms such as “hands on dad” if a father is seen changing a nappy in public.

  11. I don’t like “it’s my job to look after my wife so I made the decision.” I hope it was consensual and not another case of “man knows best”.

    Your wife went through a lot and you’ve expressed yourself well. But the title would be better if it was “What this dad thinks…”. You can’t really speak for all men any more than I can!

  12. My husband and I both felt it was important to aim to breastfeed if we could. Our baby had a tongue tie which we were told was mild but after a month of really struggling we paid outside the NHS to have it corrected. The tongue tie practitioner said it was definitely on the more severe end and within 48 hours of correction our daughter was feeding well and I was a lot less sore. It was a tough month and I think it led to my daughter and I both finding breastfeeding stressful rather than peaceful and relaxing. At 8 months, as soon as she could eat enough to sustain herself, she fully rejected all breast milk. I was relieved. Throughout this my husband was unbelievably supportive. He looked online for different breastfeeding positions to show me. He took me to the local midwives and breastfeeding support groups and listened intently to advice. He also said he’d support a decision to bottle feed if that proved necessary – and made it clear he would think this was a failure of mother nature this time round, not my failing as a mother. He had an opinion because it is his child too – and I am his partner – our health (physical and mental) is important to him. Jamie Oliver was a bit silly for saying it is “easy”, he should have said that they were lucky enough to find it easy – which is probably what he meant really.

    P.S. I love your website. I am tired of a purely female perspective on parental issues, and also sick of the attitude that men are uninvolved and inferior parents. My husband is a wonderful person so it came as no surprise that he’s a wonderful father – his gender has nothing to do with it.

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