Life as Clay

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Advice for new fathers: Read about breastfeeding

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I’m a new father. My daughter, Blythe, was born 3 weeks early, on 28 December 2010. She’s a beautiful girl and my wife and I are having a blast getting to know her and trying to make sense of her nonsensical sleep patterns. :)

Prior to her birth, I asked a lot of friends whether they had any specific parenting advice for new fathers. Most of the books and material in our (American) society focuses on preparing the mother for child rearing duties. I presumed that there were some specific bits of info that would really help me, as a father, prepare for Blythe’s arrival. None of my friends had much to say specific to fathers. Most nonchalantly suggested I just read the same books and support my wife as much as possible.

They were right about that. Reading the books is important. I’m learning, however, that there are steps that fathers can take to prepare for fatherhood, ease anxiety, and provide better support. I’m going to occasionally post my own lessons learned. Here’s the first:

Become a breastfeeding expert; an ad hoc lactation consultant

I flipped through a lot of books prior to Blythe’s arrival, focusing mainly on issues related to pregnancy, bathing infants, etc. In spite of an active interest in helping my wife with anything possible, I always skipped the chapters on breastfeeding because I assumed that there wasn’t much that I could do to help her with that. I was very wrong.

Blythe arrived a little early and was delivered via C-section (for medical reasons). My wife read several pregnancy books prior to her arrival, but both she and I were caught off guard by the anxiety caused by the first 2 weeks of breastfeeding. Most books claim that a new mother’s milk will arrive 4-5 days after the birth of the child, but in the case of a C-section, it is more like 7-9 days after birth. This is a very stressful period.

During the ~6-7 days that it took my wife’s milk to arrive, she consistently was pushed by the hospital staff to use a breast pump regularly. We found ourselves using small TB syringes to collect the tiniest drops of colostrum from pump pieces that seemed sized for cattle. On a “good” day, during the first week, we were able to collect 1-2 mL of colostrum. We could have had an army of lactation consultants reassuring us that her milk would come in, but it surely didn’t feel that way. My wife, during this time, was too busy recovering from surgery, visiting Blythe in the nursery, and using a breast pump to read about breast feeding.

Troubles with “latching on” are as anxiety-provoking as the lack of milk and the worries compound with the knowledge that, even if Blythe did latch on, she was only getting a drop or two of milk. I was tired. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you will be tired. Take my advice, however, and use this time (if you haven’t done so earlier) to become a household expert on breastfeeding. I strongly recommend the book “Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers,” by Mohrbacher. (link)

The effort that you put into understanding how breasts work and the knowledge that you gain about proper positioning, latching-on techniques, and milk production will allow you to fill in the gaps in your partner’s knowledge that lead to anxiety. With a pair of educated hands, you will be able to help her properly position the baby, shape the nipple, and get it into the child’s mouth for latching-on. The moment of first latch-on is a victory for everybody involved. When your partner’s milk comes in and your baby latches onto her nipple — when you can see the baby actively swallowing milk from the breast… this is a moment of triumph for all three of you.

Your partner’s knowledge of breastfeeding quickly will surpass yours, as she develops a feeding pattern and your child gains motor control. Your assistance in achieving this relationship can lower the anxiety greatly, improve the efficiency of feeding, and importantly, make you feel like an active participant in the process.

Written by Clay

January 11, 2011 at 12:56