Focus on Fathers
Seaside, California, USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 6, November-December 2002, pp. 226
No one told me that breastfeeding a newborn would take four hands. Before my daughter, Alexa, was born my husband and I discussed breastfeeding and I read many books. All of the books described a "two-handed" method: one hand to hold your breast and one hand to support the baby. The pictures all showed a happy, calm mother easily nursing her perfectly positioned newborn. This didn't look too hard, I thought.
After Alexa's birth, I sat with my husband, Ari, as the hospital lactation consultant guided me through the basics of breastfeeding. First, she arranged a few pillows in my lap to raise Alexa to an appropriate level. Then, as the books described, she had me hold my breast with one hand and guide Alexa to it with the other. She watched us and said that Alexa appeared to have a good latch and was compressing the right amount of breast tissue—but I was in pain! After checking her latch again, the consultant noticed that Alexa's lips were sucked in a little, perhaps causing the pain. She showed me how to gently roll them out using a couple of fingers. If that didn't work, she said, I could break Alexa's latch with a finger and try again. I stared at her. It would take a contortionist to accomplish all these things at once, I thought.
When I asked her how I could adjust Alexa's lips with both of my hands full, she looked at Ari and said that he could provide the third hand. And he did. Day after day, Ari helped me get comfortable with pillows and soft music. He held Alexa until I was ready and then used his "third hand" to adjust her latch if necessary. He made sure I had water within easy reach and would either sit with me or allow me to breastfeed privately if I preferred. We had a baby monitor hooked up so that when Alexa was finished, I could softly call him and he would come back to break her latch if needed, burp her, and check her diaper. Ari did all of this with a smile. He had been breastfed as a baby and wanted to help establish a sound nursing relationship between Alexa and me.
At night there were more challenges. How could I see to position Alexa correctly? Ari's "fourth hand" was ready to help. Whether it was 2 am, 3 am, or 4 am, Ari was awake and involved. He held a soft light in one hand and adjusted Alexa's latch—often more than once—with the other. As she suckled contentedly, he would doze by my side, and when she finished nursing, he would wake to burp her and cuddle her back to sleep.
Thinking back on those early weeks, I can't imagine how I would have managed without those two extra hands. Ari's support, both physical and emotional, made it possible to persevere through that early, sometimes difficult period. Alexa is 15 months old now and we are a successful nursing pair. Although Ari's extra hands are not needed to adjust Alexa's lips, they are still lovingly used to cuddle her to sleep at night. In fact, as I finish writing this tonight, I can hear soft, rhythmic breathing coming from the bedroom—not just from Alexa, but from Ari, too. He was cuddling Alexa to sleep, and it seems that she cuddled him to sleep, too. They have an incredible bond. I am very fortunate to be married to such a special man.