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Photo: Jess Rhea
Bonding with Daddy
My husband was initially quite supportive about the idea of my breastfeeding our baby, agreeing that it was the healthy choice, but since our son’s birth, two and a half months ago, he has had a change of heart. He seems to resent the time I spend breastfeeding and appears frustrated and jealous that he is unable to calm the baby as easily as I can. Breastfeeding is going quite well but, of course, takes up so much time that my husband perhaps feels excluded. He keeps telling me I should introduce a bottle and that I need to get back to “normal.” I want to continue exclusively breastfeeding until six months and don’t want any one else (not even my husband) to feed my baby. Am I being selfish? How do other fathers of breastfed babies behave in the early months? Is bonding with daddy always difficult for the father of a breastfed baby? How can I help him bond with our baby and carry on breastfeeding without causing a rift between us?
I think it’s important for everyone to realize and accept that a mama-baby nursing dyad is not really two independent beings yet. Nobody questions that a pregnant woman and her fetus are intricately connected, but there’s this idea in our culture that the moment of birth signifies a separation. Baby and mama continue to be intricately connected for as long as they are breastfeeding, and no other method of infant feeding can replicate that. When I hear about a dad being jealous of the nursing relationship, I wonder, was he jealous of the pregnancy too? Or did he understand that gestating a baby was the work of his partner, and that his work was to help keep her comfortable, fed, and loved? Could he come to understand that that is still his main job, while nursing is the mama’s job?
That being said, sometimes our partners really need some extra empathy, and past baggage, such as not having been breastfed themselves, or trauma around their relationship with their own mother, comes up really strongly for them when they see their child lovingly cradled and nursed in mama’s arms. Is he really jealous of the baby? Or is he witnessing something he missed out on, and doesn’t know how to talk about (or even formulate) his feelings and needs?
Some families have found that bedsharing has really helped with dad-baby bonding, and some have family cuddles when it’s time to nurse: dad leaning back, mom leaning against him, baby at her breast. Then everyone can feel loved and nurtured together (and get the oxytocin flowing!) With a little understanding, perseverance, and, yes, firmly standing your ground (this is a decision YOU get to make), it just may be possible to breastfeed for as long as you want to and get your partner on your side again.
Rosemary Roberts, McMinnville, OR, USA
I went through this with my husband after we had our first baby. Before the baby came, I gave all of my love solely to him. He felt jealous of the attention the baby was getting. Since I wasn’t responsive to his sexual advances, he was really feeling left out. This too shall pass and it is normal for him to feel that way. Don’t give up on nursing your baby: you would regret that. Though you’ve got your time pretty well taken up with the baby, try to give your husband a little extra attention. Tell him you love him a few more times a day. Small gestures go a long way. I tried putting the baby down one night to watch a movie with my husband without talking about the baby. He was in the room with us and I didn’t make it through the entire movie but snuggling with my husband a little was better than not at all.
Kathy Bernardo, Bristol, RI USA
Small gestures go a long way.
I think it’s easy to overlook the challenges dad experiences and it’s wise to allow time for him to develop his confidence too. It can be hard for fathers when they expect to be involved, and want to be, then to realize that in the early days theirs is initially a supporting role. Tell him how vital he is to you and your wellbeing and try to encourage physical closeness.
In the evening my baby would get very fussy and want to feed often, only settling briefly before waking in tears, bringing her little knees up with the pain from trapped gas. In The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (page 117), I read how a “magic hold” can be very soothing and it turned out only dad could manage to make it work.
This really helped him to feel more capable and, after that, things just developed easily. When our second baby arrived, his relationship with our first became stronger still, and he took over her bedtimes. They’d often go on trips to the park and library, leaving me and the “boring” baby at home.
Daddies are often also best at the rough and tumble games toddlers love and that mothers are often too worn out to play. Their deeper voices are well suited to bedtime stories and their flatter chests can be a good spot for baby to take a nap.
Jane Plankerton, North West London, UK
You are not being selfish by wanting to breastfeed your baby. You are doing what’s instinctively right. Don’t feel pressured into introducing a bottle: there are many ways your husband can bond with your baby.
We live with my parents and grandpa bonds with my four-month-old by greeting him every morning and evening with a hug (which my baby expects) before heading off to work and after he gets home. My son misses grandpa so much when he goes off for the weekend that I have to put on my dad’s aftershave! Another way to bond is by giving massages and my mother likes to do that to get close to my son. Other bonding times with baby for dads or other family members are baths, diaper changes (we like to talk about the mobile dangling above the changing table), music time, talking time, dress up like daddy time, any play time. There’s an endless list. Try some and one at least will work for your husband. Trust your instincts.
Renee Orie, Montana, USA
Trust your instincts.
When your husband sees your baby smiling in a warm bath, or gazing up at him from the changing mat, he’ll find that so rewarding he might feel happier about the separation of your roles.
Encourage dad to use a baby wrap or carrier. They work wonders calming and lulling babies to sleep.
Dad and baby can have some skin-to-skin time, too. The hormones released when he smells the top of the baby’s head will help them bond and dad will become more sensitive to hearing baby’s cry. Your baby will develop a love for dad’s smell, similar to how he loves the smell of mommy’s milk.
Natalie Miles, Largo, Maryland, USA
Mother’s New Situation
My husband and I, and our pre-schooler, and breastfeeding baby are planning to make a vacation in July that will involve a lot of travel, by air, road, and rail. I am really anxious about how best to manage this trip so as to keep my little ones happy, and stress for my husband and me to a minimum. How have other parents met such a challenge? I should love you to share your tips, please!
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