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What Is the Father's Role in the Breastfeeding Relationship?

It is a fortunate baby that has a close, loving relationship with both of his parents! Babies need lots of physical contact, and when not breastfeeding, a father's loving arms are a wonderful place for his baby to be. "Fathers need to spend time with their babies in order to get to know them better and get 'tuned in' to their needs. Watch for cues that baby is ready for some fathering interaction. A hungry baby won't be at all interested in playing. But once baby has nursed his fill, dad can take over..." (WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, p. 193).

Even the baby that breastfeeds very frequently can enjoy a satisfying relationship with his father. Try letting your full breastfed baby lie on her father's chest. Rocking baby on the father's shoulder is often a favorite activity. Many fathers find rewarding times with baby by showing the baby this big, wide world we live in!

The support of a baby's father can help the breastfeeding relationship succeed. The father can head off discouragement, deflect negative comments from friends and relatives, help calm a fussy baby and bring the new mother food and drink while she is breastfeeding. Most importantly the baby's father can remind the new mother that breastfeeding is one of the most important things she can do to get their baby off to a good start in life.

Especially in the first few weeks, when lack of sleep and hormonal changes can sometimes make new mothers waver in their determination to breastfeed, a father who suggests, "let's try that one more time," or who reminds his partner that, "they say babies space out their feedings after the three week growth spurt," can be invaluable. A father who brings pillows for help in positioning a newborn or who brings a telephone so that the mother can call a La Leche League Leader is truly helping to feed his child!

Sometimes a father can become discouraged if he feels that no one else he knows is breastfeeding or going through his family's current parenting dilemma. If the local La Leche League Group offers couples meetings, they are a great way to get to know other fathers with similar parenting styles, and to find out how others deal with parental challenges. LLL Area Conferences, usually held once a year or every other year, are very helpful for fathers. They can see and be with many other fathers whose families have made similar parenting choices, and there are often special conference sessions just for fathers.

Contacting an LLL Leader or attending a meeting may help. To find a Group near you, call 1-800-LALECHE, look at our LLL Web Page Index, or follow the hints in our page on finding a local LLL Leader. If you are unable to find a local Group, you may consider attending one of our online LLL meetings.

Resources for Additional Information

You will find a collection of articles from NEW BEGINNINGS on fathering the breastfed child here. There is also a whole collection of NEW BEGINNINGS articles about family issues. Check them all out here. Additionally, there is a media release that highlights the importance of fathers.

These items plus many others are all available from the LLLI online store or through your local Leader:

THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING: Now in its sixth revised edition, this La Leche League International classic title is expanded to include important references and additional resources for the breastfeeding mother. It includes a chapter on fathering the breastfed baby. As the definitive guide for over 40 years, this sixth edition of THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING brings the importance of parenting through breastfeeding into the next century. ( Softcover, 465 pages.)

Other books about fathering are offered through the LLLI Online Store or from your local LLL Group library. These titles include Becoming a Father, by William and Martha Sears, Father's First Steps: 25 Things Every New Father Should Know, by Robert W. Sears and James M. Sears, and Fatherwise, by Alice Bolster.

"The Breastfeeding Father" -- This pamphlet provides an introduction to breastfeeding for fathers, and explains why a father's support is critical to a successful breastfeeding experience.

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