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The Breastfeeding Father

Jennifer Babisak
Plano TX USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 3, May-June 2006, pp. 122-123

A few men simulate breastfeeding in order to feed their infants. My husband, Matt, is not one of them. His role in the nourishment of our son, however, has proven indispensable. He's been the proponent, the helper, the encourager, and the guardian of my nursing relationship with our son. I don't know if I could have managed such a successful breastfeeding experience without Matt's help. I do know this -- with his help, the past year has been a joyful ride.

When I first presented the idea of using a midwife and delivering in a birth center, Matt was opposed. Because of his medical background, he believed that delivering in an out-of-hospital setting would put us at undue risk. Nevertheless, I continued my quest for this type of birth and presented Matt with various studies and statistics that proved the safety and superiority of out-of-hospital birth for low-risk mothers. After meeting our midwife, Matt became as enthusiastic as I was about delivering at the birth center. Throughout my pregnancy, we received our midwife's support and encouragement of breastfeeding. More importantly, our chosen birth environment would provide a wonderful setting for our son to have his first taste at the breast.

Later in my pregnancy, we attended childbirth classes together. Matt eagerly anticipated each class. He became a well-informed and dedicated birth partner. These classes included instruction on the birth process, but they also provided us with basic guidance on infant care, including breastfeeding. We learned about swaddling, cloth diapering, and calming techniques. He helped me practice the various holds for nursing, and together we received instruction on proper latch-on. This shared knowledge would prove invaluable once our son arrived.

Perhaps Matt's attitude as we approached this endeavor was more important than his knowledge. He viewed breastfeeding as something that we would accomplish, not something we would attempt. He acknowledged the superiority of human milk over any man-made concoction. He had full confidence in my ability to nourish our son. There was never a doubt in his mind that we would succeed. He promised to do whatever was necessary, to take as many jobs as needed, in order to ensure that I could stay home and feed our baby.

When the time came for us to finally meet our son, it was beautiful, peaceful, and private. Matt was not relegated to the background during the birth: he was an active participant. As soon as he was born, our son, Caleb, was able to nestle against my chest and begin nursing. Caleb was never taken out of the room. He was never given a bottle, a pacifier, or any other substitute for mother's milk. I was able to respond to his every cry and to ease his transition into this harsh world. Matt cuddled with the two of us on the giant bed in the birth center. He held me and stroked Caleb's head; he watched as we clumsily attempted our first nursing. Together we became a family.

When we arrived home the morning after Caleb's birth, Matt continued to prioritize our breastfeeding relationship. He made sure that I was comfortable and encouraged me to rest as much as possible. He was the gatekeeper between me and all of the visitors. He even made an emergency call for lanolin when my nipples became cracked due to an improper latch-on. After we received some pointers on proper technique, Matt helped me significantly by pulling down on Caleb's chin as he latched on. My sweet husband faithfully attended each feeding so that he could help us achieve proper form.

An unexpected issue required our immediate attention when we brought Caleb home -- our sleeping arrangement was unsatisfactory! We had a beautiful, antique bassinet tucked into a corner of our bedroom, a cozy nook in which we planned for our little one to sleep for his first few months. Then, we had his crib ready and waiting in his room, outfitted with custom linens and looking like quite the posh place to nap. In case these fine sleeping arrangements failed to meet our son's approval, we had a third option prepared -- a packable playpen complete with bassinet. Well, Caleb adamantly and loudly voiced his opposition to all of these sleeping contraptions. The only arrangement that appeased him consisted of him snuggled between his mama and daddy in bed. Holding on to our stubborn ideology that babies do not belong in big beds, we fought Caleb's sleep preference that first night. Consequently, none of us slept that night. The next day, we purchased a bigger bed and embarked on the joyful adventure of cosleeping.

How thankful I am today that Caleb convinced us that the family bed was the only acceptable option. Furthermore, I am so appreciative that Matt eagerly accepted this change of plans with nary a complaint. My husband gladly gave up part of his bed space for our tiny baby and we are all the better for it. Cosleeping has been such a blessing to our family, especially to our breastfeeding relationship. I am able to nurse Caleb through the night, conveniently and with hardly awakening. I am privileged to be awakened each morning by my son patting my face or climbing on top of me. Matt gets much needed cuddle time with Caleb in the middle of the night. He is delighted to have his son sleeping next to him, and he feels that this sleeping arrangement has fostered a great bond between the two of them.

In the early days of Caleb's life, Matt began a refrain that initially annoyed me immensely. Upon Caleb's slightest whimper, Matt would conclude, "He's hungry. Feed him." These comments frustrated me as I adjusted to continually subjecting my body to the needs of another. I felt that Matt was taking the easy way out, and I was doing all of the work. However, I soon realized that Matt's proddings had tremendous value. By encouraging me to nurse Caleb frequently and for a variety of reasons (to satisfy his hunger, to comfort him, to help him get to sleep), Matt actually helped me build an abundant milk supply. I never ran into supply issues, and Caleb has grown and flourished on my rich streams of milk.

Like any new mother, I often became overwhelmed with the vastness of my responsibilities. Things weren't turning out as I had planned. Yes, I had a delightful baby, but I had almost no time to myself. The house wasn't spotless, orderly, and shining, as I had imagined it would be. Delicious meals did not await my husband when he came home. Instead, Matt came home to a frazzled wife who was just as likely to burst into tears as she was to convulse in laughter. However, he focused on our priorities with the precision of a sharpshooter, and he encouraged me to do the same. Again and again, he echoed the admonition, "Feed yourself and Caleb. Don't worry about the rest." With Matt's help, I was able to release some of my guilt over not being able to do it all. I was able to concentrate on the basic and foremost task of adequately nourishing myself and our son.

Even when I was so exhausted that I just wanted to crawl into the nearest cave and hibernate, Matt encouraged me to get out and interact with other mothers, particularly those who embraced our philosophy of parenting. When I was nervous about attending my first LLL meeting, he urged me to give it a try. I am thankful that I had that encouragement because LLL has been a wonderful asset in my repertoire of resources. I leave every meeting feeling a little more normal and a little less alone. In our geographic area, I feel as though I am a fish swimming upstream in regard to our parenting choices. It is reassuring to know other mothers who swim alongside me.

Though LLL helped me greatly, I still had some reservations about nursing in public. Matt was a tremendous support in this area, too. He encouraged me to nurse anytime and anywhere, and he reminded me that our son's health should not depend on the comfort level of others. With such a supportive husband beside me, I have been able to nurse in malls, restaurants, churches, and everywhere in between. It has been quite a liberating experience, and Caleb has benefited immensely from his uninterrupted access to my milk.

Indeed, Matt has become a fierce advocate for breastfeeding. I'm no shrinking violet when it comes to defending breastfeeding, but I do not enjoy conflict. Matt, on the other hand, thrives on controversy. I'm sure that he has been waiting for someone to criticize us for nursing so that he could pounce on them with a ready defense of breastfeeding. As we continue to nurse into the toddler years, that opportunity probably awaits him. I am thankful to have my husband ready and willing to defend our decision to breastfeed, but I am equally grateful for the countless ways that he enriches our nursing relationship each day.

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