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Making It Work

Redefining Responsibilities

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 3, May-June 2002, p. 106

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

Before my son was born, my husband and I shared all the household chores equally. Since I went back to work after my maternity leave, my husband thinks that the household chores should be split equally again. I find that breastfeeding, pumping, and being mommy take more time and energy than being daddy-even an involved daddy. How do I ask my husband for help without seeming as though I can't do my share? How do I explain that meeting my child's intense infant needs, in addition to working outside the home, simply exhausts me?

Response

One important thing to realize is that having a child automatically adds chores to your day. The addition of these chores will throw the balance off. For example, if you had 10 chores that you split 50/50 before, you may have 15 or 20 now with a baby! Your husband may not be able to help with breastfeeding and pumping, but he can certainly help with diaper changing or baby's bath. He can also take responsibility for more of the non-baby chores, freeing you up to take care of the baby.

Another thing to consider is what chores are not really necessary. Making the bed and sweeping the floor are examples of tasks that might not have to be done everyday. Don't forget chores that might traditionally fall to your husband that also can be delayed, such as washing the car or yard work. By putting off tasks like these, he can help you more with necessary tasks inside the house. If meals from your neighbors have run out, you might take one day once in a while to make a few meals to put in the freezer for the days when neither one of you has the energy to cook.

I think it's also important to remember that breastfeeding is a physically draining experience, especially the first few months. Even though you're sitting still; you burn a lot of calories breastfeeding! It could easily count as two or three chores, especially since you have to do it several times a day.

Both of you should remember that this season of your life is relatively brief and will pass. Someday, you will have a clean house again!

Andrea B. T.
IN USA

Response

Explain to your husband that the physical and emotional demands being placed on you are much greater now than before. Not only are you working outside the home, but also your body is hard at work making food for your baby. Making milk takes just as much energy as being pregnant. Combine those things with the strong needs of your baby and you are exhausted.

When you talk to your husband, have a plan in mind for splitting up the chores. Tell him what specific chores you think you can comfortably handle, and what you need him to do. This is also a good time to come up with a chore schedule that lists specific tasks for each day of the week-something that has helped chores seem less daunting to my husband and me.

Melissa H.
IL USA

Response

Why does asking for help sound like you are not doing your share? This is a trap that many women get caught in. Being equal does not mean being equivalent. The household chores that were equal with two adults are no longer equal with two adults and a nursling. There is at least six times more work, including the breastfeeding and pumping.

Perhaps if you kept a log of all your activities for 24 hours it might demonstrate to your husband how much you are doing. Remember that mothers often are doing several things at once.

Remind your partner that the housework is subject to change as your baby grows older. The arrangement of today is not the best arrangement for next year, or even for next week. You will not be breastfeeding forever; at some point you will be driving the child to lessons, practices, or games. How will you share that?

Are the two of you connecting to have any fun? I have found that when household tasks become a topic of struggle, the partners need some special time together. It is difficult to always be nurturing if you are not being nourished.

As with everything in a relationship, communication is key. Using "I" statements and avoiding any fault finding or blaming statements helps. Hold the intention of harmony and sharing in your heart, and it will guide your actions and words.

Nikki L.
PA USA

Response

Your husband may not have really thought about what is involved in breastfeeding. After all, you are just sitting on the couch resting or lying in bed sleeping, right?

Be careful about sending out the message that you are not able to do your share. You are doing more than your share when you consider all the added responsibilities that come with a baby. It may be that you need to sit down together and reallocate the workload, including caring for baby.

One approach would be to specifically ask him to do a task while you are breastfeeding. When you arrive home in the evening, ask him to get dinner started while you give the baby his dinner. You will be sending the message that you are both working on dinner at the same time.

Have you thought about spending a few days to make a record of the amount of time breastfeeding is taking from your day? You and your husband may be surprised to discover how much time is really involved in breastfeeding. It is likely that he hasn't even considered the amount of time you spend at work pumping. He may get an hour for lunch, but you only get 30 minutes by the time you have finished pumping, stored your milk, and put everything away. When he sees the numbers in writing, it may make a difference to his attitude.

If nothing else seems to work, ask him to sit with you while you are breastfeeding. He doesn't get up, change position, run to answer the phone, or anything else that you can't do for the length of time it takes your son to feed. It may be a real eye opening experience for him.

Breastfeeding our children is a wonderful time in our lives, but it does take energy. The good news is that you will be able to remember all the wonderful breastfeeding moments in the years to come.

Christine Nicholls
Victoria British Columbia Canada

Response

Although it would be an inadequate reply in and of itself, you can try using simple facts about caloric needs/expenditures to "justify" your need for a break on other tasks. The extra 300-500 calories burned while breastfeeding (or whatever it is) is the same as (fill in the blank-e.g., running X number of miles), which similarly leaves a person feeling wiped out.

You could also address the question on a pure time level. It simply takes time to nurse! And plenty of rest is necessary for maintaining supply.

My husband was incredible in this regard, always bringing me water to drink, the phone, doing everything around the house. Now I tell first-time expectant parents who are committed to nursing that it is really a job for two people-the father's/partner's support is crucial.

Ketura P.
Washington DC USA

Response

I agree with your husband that the household chores should be split equally again. Simply itemize and add all the new baby-related chores, such as breastfeeding, pumping, changing diapers, picking up at daycare, cleaning up toys, and watching the baby to the original list of chores and divvy up who does what. As an example, obviously your husband can't breastfeed and pump so he'll have to do two other things that are equally time-consuming to be fair.

Your husband seems to be under the impression that childcare isn't time-consuming work. Hopefully this will help him realize, in an objective, nonjudgmental way, that there are a whole host of tasks to be done to raise a child. If both parents work outside the home, both will have to share child raising, just as you did when you only had housework to share.

Rebecca G.
PA USA

Response

A child brings many changes and challenges in a household and marriage, as you've discovered. Often when the changes are more than what we bargained for we long for the familiar and comfortable. I wonder if this is what your husband is feeling. Certainly his idea that "household chores should be split equally again" reflects this.

Yet if you and he were to list the household chores in detail, as they are now, including the added laundry, shopping, and baby care, the list would be very different. The old list wouldn't compare to the new one! Would he be open to the idea of redefining the responsibilities involved in "chores" and acknowledging the differences in the amount of time and effort needed? This would be a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge how much he does to care for you and your little one. It may be that you are so tired that you haven't been able to do this. If he knows you value his contributions he may be more able to see and validate your exhaustion.

You may want to pay close attention to his particular "love language" in expressing your appreciation. In a nutshell, they are words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, physical touch and quality time. These are covered in more detail, including a way to figure out his primary "love language" in Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell's book, The Five Love Languages. Maybe you can discover each others' together and use this time of redefining your roles as wife/husband and mother/father to further strengthen your marriage, an unexpected bonus as you work through this time of transition. Good luck!

Mary H.
KS USA

Response

You do have your hands full, trying to juggle work, motherhood, and homemaking. Any of those alone is a full-time job. As you are finding, it's not realistic to expect everything to be the same as it was before the baby was born.

In our society the pressure to have it all and do it all can be enormous. Instead of feeling that motherhood is the most important thing they will ever do, many mothers feel guilty about not "pulling their weight." Your husband might assume you would resent the suggestion that you can't do it all. After all, that's probably what he has heard all his life!

Usually the simplest way to tell someone something is just to tell them! Be right up front that it is not as easy as you thought it was going to be, that you want to pull your weight, that you feel stressed about not being able to do as much as you did before. Remember, you, your husband and your baby are a family, you care about each other; if one of you is hurting, all are affected.

You and your husband might sit together and make a chart of what needs to be done every day/week/month and how much time each task takes. Include on the chart all the baby-related tasks you do each day, including holding him when he's fussy. When written down in black and white, you will both see more clearly how much you are contributing to the family by taking care of those "chores."

As you discuss how much time household tasks take, also take a realistic look at how much time the two of you actually have each day. Talk plainly about how you as a couple will handle the workload when your child is having a "high need" day. Set priorites. Decide which tasks can be eliminated altogether and come up with ways to streamline others. It's very easy to get caught up in getting everything done and forget to take time to enjoy each other.

Often what is most important is a change of perspective. The baby years go by so fast. No one will remember whether the dishes were done or the beds were made. But you will remember holding your baby when he needed you and spending time together as a family.

Claire B.
TX USA

Response

One of the things that surprised me about new motherhood was how emotionally taxing it could be. All of the breastfeeding and day-to-day care taking of a baby required so much emotional energy very little was left for anything else. I wonder if many fathers, even the most involved ones, really understand the amount of intensity with which a breastfeeding mother is attached to her little one. Your husband just may not realize how much emotional energy you devote to your baby and how it takes precedence over more mundane household tasks. Possibly just explaining this would give your husband an appreciation for what you already do for the well-being of your family. It may help to explain how extra breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact with your baby in the evening allows you to pump more efficiently and provide more breast milk for your baby while you are away. You could also calculate the cost-savings of providing breast milk, maybe as much as $1,500 per year instead of buying formula, and your husband may be so impressed that he may agree to hiring help with the cleaning.

Kathy S.
TX USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
Page last edited .


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