Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Updated January 2016
George Hay, East Lothian, UK
A father’s story
I spent three years as a full-time dad, and going out to work is ridiculously easy by comparison.
When my wife was pregnant with our first child and announced that she was intending to breastfeed our baby I wasn’t particularly surprised. In fact, I hadn’t really given much thought to how the baby should be fed, but it seemed sensible. After all, that’s what breasts are for, and you don’t have to be a genius to work out that formula is a very poor substitute for mother’s milk. How many adults would drink powdered milk if there were fresh milk in the fridge? Reconstituted milk on your cornflakes? No, I don’t fancy it either. So why should babies have to? In the words of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s 70’s funk classic, “A Real Mother for Ya”:
“They’re making milk out of powder
They’ve got the babies cryin’
Poor babies, they don’t know what that stuff is!”
The song’s not really about breastfeeding, or mothers. It’s a general lament about the way society is heading, and the readiness to give babies second best is just one part of that.
However, I live in a country where it’s now regarded as normal and desirable for mothers to go back to work as soon as possible—as if raising a child were not important and valuable work. It’s much more difficult to sustain breastfeeding if your wife/partner is out at work, but it can be done and choosing breastfeeding makes sense.
When our first son was born, I stayed home with him and my wife worked full time. She expressed milk so that I wouldn’t have to give him formula, and often I would take him to meet her at lunchtime for a “proper” feed. However, it was hard work for both of us, and for our subsequent children we reverted to the more traditional arrangement: I went out to work while she stayed home, even though that meant a significant loss of income.
We now have five children and they have all been fully breastfed, and by that I mean exclusively on breast milk until they showed an interest in solids (usually by grabbing food off our plates). We let them wean themselves—usually a short “comfort” feed at bedtime was last to go at about four years old. Some of you might think that is a long time to breastfeed a child, but that’s how it used to be done, and it still is in the so-called ”Third World.”
Given the obvious and well-documented benefits of breastfeeding it’s difficult to see why it isn’t more popular here. However, the decision on whether to breastfeed or not isn’t made in isolation—dads also have a say, and, in my experience, many appear surprisingly ready to accept formula. Why is that? Well, I suspect that a lot of men think that they’ll get their sex lives back more quickly if the baby is bottle-fed and packed off to another room as soon as possible.
I suspect that a lot of men think that they’ll get their sex lives back more quickly if the baby is bottle-fed and packed off to another room as soon as possible.
It makes sense for breastfed babies to sleep in the same bed as their mother—that way no one needs to get up in the middle of the night. That’s great if you want a good night’s sleep, but not if you want hot sex (and, believe it or not, even breastfeeding mums enjoy some of that).
However, I reckon the answer isn’t to give our babies a second-rate milk substitute—it’s to offer our partners the help and support they need (but won’t ask for, because they are women). Sulking in front of the TV with a bottle of beer isn’t going to make us dads attractive to tired and harassed partners. Doing more around the house and helping out with child care is. And “doing a full-time job” isn’t an excuse for being a couch potato at home. I spent three years as a full-time dad, and going out to work is ridiculously easy by comparison.
Here are the benefits and disadvantages as I see them:
- poor substitute for breast milk,
- dad has to take turns at getting up in the middle of the night to prepare it,
- baby’s poop smells bad.
- ideal food for babies,
- no getting out of bed required,
- baby’s poop is inoffensive,
- your partner has surpringly large breasts.
Surely this can’t be a difficult choice for anyone who likes babies. Or breasts.